Data Centers and Fire: How to Not Go Up in Flames

04.21.14
Chris L

Samsung’s data center fire can teach us a lot about fire prevention…

Since the dawn of man, fire has helped us light up the dark nights, provide warmth, cook food, and be the cause for most of early human innovation.  Fire can also shut down a data center completely, shutting down services for a while much to the chagrin of users.  That’s exactly what happened to Samsung when a fire in a data center temporarily shut down a bunch of stuff that requires the data center to operate, but it also brings up an important topic about fire prevention and detection in data centers.

data center fire

Data centers and fire prevention

Samsung’s data center fire in Gwacheon, South Korea shut down a bunch of Samsung operated services and affected devices that relied on those services.  For instance, those with Samsung SmartTV’s couldn’t access the Smart Hub or the App Store; Samsung.com was also shut down for a short amount of time.  Obviously, people were outraged.  Luckily, there were only minor injuries to one person, and everyone was able to evacuate successfully before anything bad happened.  Currently, an investigation is being conducted to find out why there was a fire in the first place.  The outage lasted till around 6 A.M. EST, so unless you were still up celebrating Easter (or 4/20 (if you were still up, you must’ve had some really good stuff)), you probably weren’t affected in the US.

Yeah man, fire sucks.  It’s not cool, like, at all.  So how do data centers handle fire and fire prevention?  Well, for starters, data center operators better have a good fire prevention system in place, because with all those wires and plugs and power and energy around, you’re practically standing in a powder keg–one spark and the whole thing goes boom.  Fire prevention systems can keep your equipment safe, but also limit the amount of damage done and the amount of time that it takes to get everything back up and operable. 

While water seems to be the most standard way of putting out a fire, you have to think about how that will affect your equipment.  I mean, would you like to douse your servers in gallons upon gallons of water?  Probably not, but it might be your only choice in the case of a big fire (obviously small, local fires can be handled with a fire extinguisher and some heroics). However, using gaseous agents, you can take away heat and oxygen from a fire, rendering it useless and protecting your equipment from damages due to water while also allowing for quicker recovery.  The only thing that may hinder you from using gas is cost and maintenance—it’s expensive and time consuming.

So make sure that your fire prevention/detection systems are up to par.  The most important factors are reducing the spread of fire and increasing recovery time.  Oh, and also not having a fire in the first place.  That’s pretty important too.

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