IT room

Protect your equipment without a room-wide system

Whether it is a server, network, or telecommunications equipment, electronics are valuable to your business and protecting them from fire damage is important for ensuring your business can continue without interruption. A room-wide fire protection system is not always necessary, if you have your equipment housed in a cabinet it is possible to have local application fire protection.

From 2006 to 2010, there were an estimated 209 reported U.S. structure fires per year that started in electronic equipment rooms. According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster.

In-rack fire detection and suppression units are available to protect electronics that are housed in a fully-enclosed cabinet. These systems are designed to fit in the rack, usually of a 19” cabinet and include a smoke aspiration system with two sensors, an agent container with release mechanism and discharge nozzles, a power supply and emergency back-up power supply.

local application fire protection
An in-rack extinguishing system can protect multiple cabinets with one sampling pipe which activates separate extinguishing devices.

Room-wide systems such as a clean agent system or Stat-X system, work really well for protecting server rooms and the equipment kept there. However, if you have an equipment cabinet stored outside of your server room then these systems are probably more than you need to protect that space. An in-rack system will protect your equipment within the cabinet, putting the fire suppression system as close to the critical equipment as possible, without the higher expense of a room-wide system.

Another benefit of in-rack systems, is that they can detect and suppress deep-seated fires within the equipment cabinet. Electronics and IT racks can experience smoldering fires deep within the equipment. A room-wide system would probably not be able to detect this fire in the incipient stages, whereas an in-rack system can detect the fire early on and also has the ability to flood the cabinet with the suppression agent and extinguish the fire. In a room-wide system it can be difficult for the chemical agent to disperse within the IT equipment sufficiently to suppress a deep-seated fire within the equipment.

In-rack suppression systems are made with a Clean Agent chemical. This means there is no damage to your electronics and no clean-up after use. The system operates in two states – pre-alarm and fire alarm. On pre-alarm, power circuits can be switched off simultaneously with the alarm signal, isolating supporting electrical energy. On fire alarm, the extinguishing system is activated and the extinguishing agent vaporizes at the nozzle and is distributed throughout the cabinet to rapidly extinguish the fire. Separate outputs are available to activate external audible or visual alarms, as well as outputs for external power shut downs. The systems also have a control panel with display, fault and status LEDs and operating keys. Various models of in-rack systems are available, some of which can be used together to protect up to five combined cabinets.

In-rack fire suppression systems offer a highly sensitive smoke detection and fire extinguishing system for your electronic cabinets. For more in-depth information about this topic, check out A1’s Lunch & Learns for architects and engineers.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Room Construction for a Clean Agent System

Clean Agent Systems are the best fire protection system for your server rooms. For this suppression system to work properly, your server room construction needs to be specifically designed to limit leaks and hold the gaseous agent.

In reports from the NFPA, when automatic extinguishing equipment was reported present, sprinklers were reported in 72% of the fires. Wet-pipe sprinklers were reported for 90% of the fires with sprinklers present, compared to 7% for dry-pipe sprinklers and 3% for other sprinklers.

When wet-pipe sprinklers were present, 56% of fires were reported as too small to activate operational sprinklers. Clean agent systems can activate faster than traditional wet-pipe sprinklers and, since they do not use water, will not damage your electrical equipment when used. Debris, smoke, and water clean-up wreaks havoc on electronic gear. It also prevents your business from getting back to business as usual.

Server Room Construction for a Clean Agent Suppression System

Server rooms are generally constructed with the perimeter walls extending from the true ceiling (as opposed to drop ceilings and the like) to the lowest structural unit, either the floor itself or the concrete slab underneath the floor. This creates a fire rated barrier for the room and reduces the leaks a room will have in an Integrity Fan Test.

Server rooms should be prepared for a clean agent suppression system by inspecting the walls and slab for leakage points, sealing them with fire retardant materials, and fitting the doors with pressure seals around the jams and thresholds.

When constructing a server room, your contractors should ensure the following points are followed to allow for a clean agent suppression system.

Doors & Windows
General Contractor

  • All doors must have a threshold and sweep installed
  • Egress doors should swing out of the protected space
  • Doors may require weather stripping around the jam to ensure an air tight seal
  • Latching mechanisms are necessary and door closures are required
  • If doors to the server room must remain open, an electromagnet door holder will be required which can be released prior to agent discharge
  • All types of windows, pass through, or openings must be fire caulked and sealed

Walls, Ceiling & Floorroom-construction1
General Contractor

  • Porous block walls must be sealed from slab-to-slab to prevent gas from leaking out of the block; two or three coats of paint are typically required
  • Server rooms should be enclosed with wall partitions that extend slab-to-slab; in areas where this is not possible, all ceiling tiles should be clipped and openings caulked
  • All walls should be caulked around the inside perimeter of the room where the walls rest on the floor slab and the walls intersect with the ceiling slab above
  • Upgraded, noncombustible ceiling tiles are recommended
  • Drywall should be caulked at the joints of the walls and floor, and at the roof or floor above
  • Any penetration to the walls, including conduit, cable trays, outlets, switches and wire troughs, must be fire caulked and sealed
  • If a raised floor continues out of the protected space, bulkheads must be installed under the floor directly under the partitions; these bulkheads must be caulked top and bottom
  • All floor drains should have traps which are designed to have water in them at all times

HVAC Specialties
Mechanical Contractor

  • To ensure the protected area is air tight, dampers may be required in the ductwork at the perimeter walls of each protected space
  • Dampers must be spring loaded or motor operated to provide 100% air shut off
  • A 5% minimum leakage requirement must be met so the dampers must be UL #5555
  • With clean agent fire suppression, the HVAC will be shut down prior to discharge, self-contained HVAC units may continue to run (if included in design calculations)
  • HVAC shut down control relays should be installed to within 3 feet of each unit
  • All exhaust fans should be dampered; fire alarm system control relays are used to shut down any fans
  • All fresh air intakes should be dampered and closed using fire alarm system control relays

Power and Interface Wiring
Electrical Contractor

  • 120 VAC dedicated 15 AMP circuit to the suppression control panel is required
  • Power to all dampers – control relays within 3 feet of damper
  • Fire alarm monitoring – contacts for alarm, supervisory and trouble conditions are available within the fire control panel; connection is handled by your fire system contractor
  • Purge system control wiring to HVAC units and exhaust fans are interfaced with fire alarm system control panel; connection is handled by your fire system contractor

Pressure Relief Vents

While ensuring that your server room is sufficiently sealed to contain the suppression agent for at least 10 minutes, you also have to take into consideration the maximum amount of pressure the room’s construction can withstand. The suppression agent is released with force, in a sealed room, if not calculated properly the pressure could be higher than the room can withstand. NFPA 2001, Section 5.3.7 states, “if the developed pressures present a threat to the structural strength of the enclosure, venting shall be provided to prevent excessive pressures.” Your suppression system designer should calculate Peak Pressure equations for your server room to determine if you need Pressure Relief Vents installed.

In addition to calculating if a pressure relief vent is necessary, and what size it should be, your designer should also calculate the leakage rate for the vent to ensure it will open and close at the correct pressure and will vent the proper amount of pressure to outdoors.

If Pressure Relief Vents need to be installed, here are some guidelines for optimizing performance:

  • Install vents as high as possible so that the lighter air, not the denser agent, is vented
  • Vents should open at pressures no lower than .007 PSI (50 Pa) so they don’t open unintentionally under normal HVAC pressures and no higher than .02 PSI (100 Pa) so the pressure is vented early enough to prevent it from becoming excessive
  • Specify the correct direction for venting with the Pressure Relief Vent. Inert agent discharges always create positive pressures and must have venting out of the enclosure, but halocarbons may create positive and/or negative pressures creating a need to be vented in either direction or both, depending on the agent and the humidity
  • All Pressure Relief Vents should be inspected annually to confirm they will open according to their specifications and to verify that the vent path to outdoors has not been accidently restricted

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Save space in your Server Room

Do I have to put the clean agent tanks in my data room?

Networks and Servers are the backbone of an organization. If you had to complete all transactions manually for a week, how would your business and customers cope? Server rooms typically house the most concentrated cluster of expensive assets. Your clean agent tanks don’t have to be in the same room to work properly.

No, you can store them in a neighboring space.

clean agent tank
A medium sized clean agent tank, with a fire extinguisher for size comparison.

Space in your server room is valuable, you want to utilize the protected space in your server room for the necessary electronic hardware. This is an advantage of clean agent suppression systems, as you can have the chemical agent tanks stored in a neighboring space, such as a supply closet, instead of inside the server room itself.

Clean Agent Systems are the best method of fire protection for IT rooms as they provide protection which, when activated, will not cause damage to your equipment as water from a traditional sprinkler will. If water on your expensive electronic equipment wasn’t bad enough, the water sitting in sprinkler pipes is not clear, clean water like you see in the movies. Typically, it is dirty water pouring over your electronics.

Before you store your clean agent tanks outside your server room, understand the advantages of having them inside your server room.

You need to be aware that storing the clean agent tanks in a neighboring space means you need to be diligent in your pipe inspections. If you have a leak in the pipes between your tanks and the server room, you may lose too much agent at discharge to suppress the fire. While your Life Safety Partner can inspect the pipes and test them each year during your annual inspections, problems can crop up in between inspections. If the tanks are stored in your IT room, then a leak is not as problematic since the agent is still ending up in the IT room where the fire is occurring.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Smoke & Fire Detection in a Server Room

In 2015, there was a fire every 23 seconds totaling 1,345,500 fires in the US alone, causing in excess of $14.3 billion in property damage. The goal of a fire protection system is to detect and alert of fire in the early stages and then bring the fire under control. The advantages of early detection are to allow as much time as possible for evacuation and to protect assets from extensive damage.

Server rooms are small spaces designed to accommodate valuable electronic systems which generate a large amount of heat, therefore requiring heavy cooling and ventilation. The combination of heat producing devices and the sensitivity of the electronic equipment put specific requirements on the fire safety system.

A highly sensitive Aspirated Smoke Detector created specifically for smaller areas is the preferred choice for smoke detection in server rooms. Air-aspirating, or air-sampling detectors, are able to detect a fire in its incipient stages and therefore provide earlier warning and faster response time for the suppression system. Air-aspirating detection has the ability to detect smoke at differing levels and provide corresponding alarms; for example, if the detector finds a very low level of smoke, indicating that a fire is about to begin (such as an overheated wire that is smoking), a pre-alarm signal can be activated to alert staff to investigate and take action. If high levels of smoke are detected the suppression system can be discharged to control the fire.

Another option is cross-zoned, spot-type smoke detectors, using multiple technologies. These detectors often have multiple analog sensors so that they respond to smoke, heat and carbon dioxide sensing elements. You can use photoelectric smoke detectors, as they are cheaper than the ones using multiple technologies, but they do not react as quickly to every fire scenario. The multi-criteria detectors are often able to respond faster than traditional type detectors and reduce false alarms. Cross-zoned smoke detection is the preferred strategy to use in server rooms with spot-type smoke detectors as it relies on the activation of two alarms before the suppression system is activated. While this limits the potential for false alarms setting off the suppression system, it can result in a delay of activation when the suppression system is needed. However, with the increased ventilation and airflow in the server room, the cross-zoned system is necessary with spot-type smoke detectors to ensure the space is sufficiently protected.

Some server rooms utilize a pressurized raised floor to provide cold air to IT equipment and an above-ceiling area as a hot air return. Due to the potential for fire within these areas, because of HVAC piping, electrical feeders, or IT cables, detectors should be placed within these spaces.

IT rooms are laid out with the basic premise to isolate hot aisles and cold aisles from each other and prevent hot and cold air from mixing. This system helps to keep IT equipment cool while also being an energy and cost-saving measure for server rooms. If this system is in place in your server room, the layout of the room and any barriers constructed need to be taken into consideration when designing the fire detection and suppression system – if it prevents the flow of air it will prevent the flow of smoke and suppression gas.

What does in-rack detection and suppression mean?

Smoke detection and suppression systems have been designed to fit in an enclosed IT rack. While this type of system is optional in a server room fire suppression system, it has advantages of early detection within the server rack. Being placed within the IT equipment, the system can detect smoke in the earliest stages shut down the connected equipment while activating fans to prevent a fire from overheating devices. Should the fire continue the system will release a suppression agent within the rack enclosure. Read more about these systems here.

Learn more about server room fire protection, and why clean agent systems are the best choice to protect electronics.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Server Room Fire Extinguisher

What type of fire extinguisher should I have to supplement the suppression system in my server room?

In 2006 to 2010, there were an estimated 209 reported U.S. structure fires per year that started in electronic equipment rooms. The annual, average estimated losses from fires in 2006 to 2010 include five civilian injuries, and $11.9 million in direct property damage.

While your building and server room should have fire protection in the form of sprinklers and a Clean Agent Suppression System, it is important to have a fire extinguisher near your server room to use for small fires before your Clean Agent Suppression System activates.

CO2 fire extinguishers have traditionally been used in small spaces. However, as CO2 fire extinguishers work by displacing oxygen in the space with carbon monoxide they pose a risk of asphyxiation to the user, especially in a small space such as a server room. Also, these extinguishers can create condensation which can lead to corrosion and damage to your equipment.

A better option is an extinguisher with a clean agent chemical in it, such as a Halotron Extinguisher, as this is not harmful to the user or the equipment. Clean Agent fire suppression utilizes inert gases and chemical agents to extinguish a fire. The clean agent is waterless and does not cause condensation so it is completely safe to use on electronic equipment.

Learn more about Clean Agent Suppression Systems.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke