BSNL’s Data Center Fire Reminds Us to Know Our Fire Suppression Options

Though it was about half way across the world, the fire that affected BSNL’s network in India was another reminder of the importance of ensuring your telecom infrastructure is protected with the right fire suppression solution. A bit closer to home, back in October 2011 the New York Stock Exchange experienced a small fire in its Mahwah, NJ data center. While BSNL’s network, including landlines, mobile service and financial transaction capabilities were felt wide and far, NYSE’s fire was extinguished rather quickly and did not affect trading the next day.

More than we know, fires or smoke situations occur in data centers across the country on a relatively regular basis. It’s the ones that we don’t hear about that most likely were not service affecting (at least on a grand scale), were able to be contained in a relatively short amount of time, and/or their fire or smoke suppression systems did not drench the equipment but simply snuff the source to contain any potential damage. This is one of the most critical elements of data center design – ensuring that you have the right fire suppression solution for each phase of a potentially hazardous situation.

There are systems that activate based on smoke and heat sensitivity. But further to that, the systems are also activated based on the severity of the issue. Multi-prong mitigation solutions must be considered. Typical buildings, especially older or dated buildings, rely on overhead sprinkler systems. But that’s simply not appropriate for a fire situation in a data center. Why? Have you ever spilled water on your laptop? Imagine pouring tons of water on your switching gear, Internet routers, dousing your copper or fiber connections with water and drenching an entire facility. Water will short circuit systems, ensure a complete re-installation and re-purchase is required and cost you tons of time and man-hours to repair. Data center operators have a tremendous cleanup job after a waterlogged fire situation and that’s just the start of it.

According to Fenwal Protection Systems, sprinklers are designed to protect the building structure, but not a company’s assets. They require significant heat to operate, typically requiring a full flaming fire to set it off- destroying key assets at the source of the fire. Furthermore, collateral damage from water and smoke also destroy electronic equipment quite a distance away from the incident. Fenwal estimates the downtime costs can be enormous. Consider that revenue per hours has been estimated to be $1.5M in financial services, $1.2M in insurance and $1.0M in banking alone.

Knowing your options, accessibility to these options and the wherewithal too install the right solution is key to a successful and hazard free data center operation. The NYSE fire situation was quickly extinguished with very little to know affect on vital operations of its business. Though it was not disclosed what fire suppression system they used, one can hazard a guess that it is a gas containment solution like Fenwal Protection Systems’ aragonite inert gas, which promises zero environmental impact when used as a fire protection solution. Fenwal touts a variety of solutions including clean agent suppression systems, high sensitivity smoke detection systems, and intelligent detection and control systems. Consulting the right solution provider can and will save you millions of dollars. And knowing the type of system your data center uses will ensure that your equipment is safe guarded even when other systems may be damaged.

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