Silent Treatment: Putting Out Data Center Fires Without Causing Sound Damage
By Charles Strobel
Fire and sensitive data center equipment obviously don't mix. You want a rock-solid automatic fire suppression system to protect your sensitive data. And depending on the specifics of your installation, silent nozzles can be a wise choice, too.
To understand why, look no further than Nasdaq. Or ING Bank. Or even the Glasgow City Council.
It was just last April when stock market trading in Sweden, Denmark, and five other European countries was knocked offline for hours after a fire alarm was accidentally triggered at a contract data center used by Nasdaq in Upplands-Väsby, north of Stockholm.
According to press reports, the errant alarm activated an inert gas fire suppression system, which resulted in a release of extinguishing agent that was so loud it damaged Nasdaq's servers. It's a similar story for ING's main data center in Bucharest, where the sound of inert gas deployment during a fire drill in 2016 reportedly destroyed dozens of hard drives.
As for the Glasgow City Council, details are sparse—but its data center reportedly suffered damage due to a fire suppression system. Some accounts included "a powerful blast" that "shook the building," leading DataCenterDynamics.com to suggest a shockwave from inert gas fire system actuation may have been to blame.
There was no fire in any of these incidents, by the way. But that's not really the point. To design engineers, installers, operations teams and the customers they serve, inert gas fire suppression systems can be crucial to protecting data center equipment in the event of a fire. Depending on acoustics in the fire protection zone and other factors, the addition of silent nozzle technologies can add an extra layer of protection.
Let's look at why.
A Safe, Dependable Way to Protect Data
The fact is, inert gas fire suppression can often be the best choice for protecting the highly-sensitive equipment found in data centers.
After all, water can do catastrophic damage to expensive electronics and is inefficient at dousing hidden fires that are hard to reach. And some manmade chemical extinguishing agents can leave behind toxic residues and require a lot of cleanup, resulting in significant downtime.
Inert gas agents, however, are typically made up of 100% nitrogen or 100% argon, or some combination of both. These gases naturally occur in the air we breathe. They're also non-reactive, and they leave no chemical or toxic byproducts.
In most scenarios, "total flooding" systems discharge the inert gas agent in sufficient concentrations to suffocate a fire by displacing oxygen in the protection zone to a level below which fire cannot burn—but is still safe for people who may still be evacuating.
Within seconds, flames are snuffed out. Since there's nothing to clean up, downtime is minimized, and you're up and running again fast. But what about that loud blast that knocked out Nasdaq and ING?
Silent Nozzles: Down with the Sound
In truth, the blasts at Nasdaq and ING were more likely akin to extremely high-pitched whistles than to single, giant bangs. And given that such events are exceedingly rare, the phenomenon may have had more to do with specific acoustics and other factors within the target protection zone.
The effect of loud sounds in certain conditions have been known for some time, of course. Way back in 2008, Brendan Gregg, an engineer at Sun Microsystems, recorded a YouTube video that demonstrates how even loud shouting can result in hard drive malfunction.
Whatever the cause, sound levels that exceed 110 dB can begin degrading disk performance. According to reports in Motherboard, the sound levels in the ING Bank incident, for instance, reached over 130 dB. which one source told the pub was "like putting a storage system next to a [running] jet engine."
Thankfully, this kind of catastrophe is also easily avoidable. Modern, high-quality inert gas fire suppression systems have consistently proven to be fast and effective. And today, the best systems often include sound-dampening options that provide protection against factors in the target protection zone that may artificially amplify sound levels during system actuation.
Case in point: the INEREX line of inert gas fire system components from Rotarex Firetec. When configured into a 200-300 bar inert gas total flooding fire system, this line of system components is certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and FM Approvals.
In addition to its fully-certified components, the INEREX line includes silent nozzle options to further protect delicate servers and hard drives from target zone conditions that may amplify sounds to unacceptable levels.
Less 'Bang,' More Assurance
Of course, selecting the best fire suppression solutions always requires a careful assessment of risk factors that can vary from one from one site, or even one target protection zone, to another.
Data center operations often find that inert gas fire suppression systems can be their best choice for putting out fires quickly and safely. For some data center operations, systems that include silent nozzle options can make that choice even more sound.
To learn more about Silent Nozzles and the INEREX line of inert gas system components from Rotarex Firetec, download this FREE Brochure