Managing Data Center Aisle Containment Fire Suppression Systems

Let’s start with some data center fire statistics. According to the Uptime Institute’s Global Survey of IT and Data Center Managers 2021, fire accounts for just 3 percent of major data center outages. Fires that result in enough damage to cause extended downtime are rare, with most quickly contained and extinguished.

However, that does not suggest that data center managers can be lax in addressing fire suppression. In fact, the reason that number is so low could be due to the adoption of effective data center fire suppression systems. Fires are unpredictable and pose the greatest threat to life and property. Strict adherence to fire codes and suppression best practices help to ensure that the risk of fire remains low.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes more than 300 standards and consensus codes that have been adopted by data centers worldwide. The NFPA 75 standard applies to “Fire Protection of Information Technology Equipment,” providing requirements for data center construction, fire detection and protection equipment, and other systems and procedures.

Additionally, the NFPA published a report discussing the challenges associated with fire detection and suppression in data centers with aisle containment systems. When planning aisle containment, data center managers must consider the potential impact on fire suppression.

Hot and Cold Aisle Containment Fire Suppression Techniques

Aisle containment creates a “high airflow environment” that affects the concentration of smoke and can limit the effectiveness of detection equipment. Data center managers should install aspirating smoke detection (ASD) systems, which continuously sample air to detect even minute levels of smoke within the aisle containment environment. ASD systems may also have the ability to detect other dangerous and combustible gases that may be released in a data center fire.

More significantly, aisle containment creates a “room within a room” that blocks the dispersion of fire suppression material from ceiling-level sprinkler or clean agent systems. Aisle containment systems must have a means of eliminating roof panels in the event of a fire.

One such solution is drop-away roof panels. These panels are designed to soften and drop away in the event of a fire, allowing for unobstructed sprinkler coverage into the enclosure. They are the cost-effective solution to fire suppression, offering quick (often toolless) installation. However, their main drawback is the panels are not reusable once they drop.

Another, more permanent, approach is to use roof panel systems that interface with fire and smoke alarms. Activation of an alarm releases the connectors holding the lightweight panels, which simply angle out of the way. Once the fire is suppressed, the panels can be reattached.

The Best Aisle Containment for Fire Suppression

Enconnex offers aisle containment roof panels with electromagnetic connectors that can be integrated with most fire and smoke alarm systems. If the alarm is activated, power is cut to the connectors. This causes the panels to angle downward so that water or other fire suppression material can reach the aisle containment area. The panels can be tested and easily set back up after they are deployed. Enconnex also offers more cost-effective drop-away roof panels that soften and drop away in the event of a fire, allowing for unobstructed sprinkler coverage into the containment.

The Enconnex solutions eliminate the need to retrofit fire suppression systems to work with aisle containment. They meet the requirements of some of the strictest fire codes and regulations and have been successfully deployed in these jurisdictions with the approval of local authorities.

Although NFPA standards do not have the force of law, they provide guidelines for improving fire protection in data center environments. Furthermore, many jurisdictions mandate NFPA standards in their fire codes and regulations. The experts at Enconnex can help you comply with these requirements and ensure that data center personnel and equipment are protected from fire-related risks. Contact an aisle containment expert today.

Posted by Thane Moore on December 1, 2021

Thane Moore is the Senior Director of Sales Operations & Logistics for Enconnex and has 20 years of experience in the IT infrastructure manufacturing space working for companies such as Emerson and Vertiv.

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