Jul 26, 2018

Silent Nozzles & Inert Gas Fire Suppression
Sound & Fury: How to Avoid Putting Out Data Center Fires with a (Loud) Bang

If you think fire can be tough on your data center, it can be even harder without silent nozzles. Just ask Nasdaq.
Silent Nozzles & Inert Gas Fire Suppression<br>Sound & Fury: How to Avoid Putting Out Data Center Fires with a (Loud) Bang

By Charles Strobel

On 15 April, stock market trading in seven 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 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.

As Quartz reports, the incident shut down trading in the stock markets for Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, as well as equity and fixed-income markets for Iceland, until the exchange operator was able to activate its backup servers."

There was no fire, by the way. But that's beside the point. To design engineers, installers, operations teams and the customers they serve, the real question is whether they face a Hobson's Choice in protecting data centers with inert gas fire systems. Is it really a matter of starve the fire, shatter the disk drives?

Thankfully, the answer's no. Let's look at why.

A Safer Way to Protect Data

The truth 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 chemical extinguishing agents can leave behind toxic residues and require a lot of cleanup, resulting in even more downtime.

In contrast, inert gas agents are usually 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 to breathe as they exit.

Within seconds, flames are put out. And since there are no chemicals, toxic byproducts or residues, there's nothing to clean up. Which means you're up and running again fast.

Which is great. But what about that loud blast that knocked out the Nasdaq?

The Case for Silent Nozzles

Blog imageIn truth, the Nasdaq blast was more like an extremely high-pitched whistle than a single bang. And while such events have been known to happen in extremely rare instances, they are just that—extremely rare—and may have more to do with acoustics within the target protection zone.

In fact, sound levels within the protection zone must reach at least 110 dB to begin degrading disk performance. And these days, this kind of calamity is also fully avoidable.

That's because today, the best inert gas fire suppression systems are UL- and FM-certified to fight fires in a way that’s fast, effective and safe. And many of these systems also include high-tech sound dampening options to minimize or eliminate risks due to noise damage.


Finding Peace (and Quiet)

To be clear, selecting the best solutions for fire protection always requires a careful assessment of risk factors that can vary from one use case to another—and even from one site, or even target protection zone, to another.

When it comes to data center operations, many organizations find inert gas systems are their best choice for putting out fires quickly and safely.

Thanks to the Rotarex Firetec Silent Nozzle, inert gas fire systems can also be the best choice for doing it quietly.

To learn more about the INEREX line of inert gas system components from Rotarex Firetec, click here.

Paul Delecourt
Paul Delecourt
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