Safety Measures in Data Center

In our previous article, we discussed about what is a data center and types of data centers. Now we dwell deeper into the safety aspects of a data center.

As we know, a data center houses all kind of data, to run an organization, safety of these data center and of that of people managing these data centers plays a critical role.

The measures taken towards the safety of a Data Center could be broadly classified under 5 categories, which are as follows:

    1. Constructional
    2. Fire protection & detection
    3. Materials and equipment permitted in the computer area
    4. Utilities and others
    5. Emergency and recovery procedures

We cover these 5 measures, in greater details below under each head.

Safety Measures in Data Center

1. Constructional

  1. Separate the IT equipment area from other areas within a building with a minimum fire resistance rating of not less than 1 hr.
  2. Position of IT equipment areas should be away from areas where hazardous processes are conducted.
  3. The computer area shall be separated from other occupancies within the building, including atria or other open space construction, by fire-resistant-rated construction. The computer room shall be separated from other occupancies in the computer area by fire-resistant-rated construction. The fire resistance rating should not be less than 1 hour for both.
  4. The computer area shall not be located above, below, or adjacent to areas or other structures where hazardous processes are located unless adequate protective features are provided.
  5. All interior wall and ceiling finishes in the computer shall have a Class A rating. (Ref. NFPA 101, Life safety code)
  6. Interior floor finishes used in computer areas shall be of Class I. (Ref. NFPA 101, Life safety code)
  7. Structural supporting members for raised floors shall be of non-combustible material.
  8. Decking for raised floors shall be non-combustible.
  9. Access sections or panels shall be provided in raised floors so that all the space beneath is accessible.
  10. Electric cable openings in floors shall be made smooth to protect the cables from possibility of damages.
  11. Where any openings are installed in any fire-rated wall of a computer area, each opening shall be equipped with an automatic fire-rated shutter. The shutter shall be operated automatically by the presence of either smoke or fire on either side of the wall.
  12. Enclosures of floor-standing equipment having external surfaces of combustible materials of such size that might contribute to the spread of an external fire shall have a flame spread rating of 50 or less.
  13. Approved flexible cord and plug assemblies used for connecting computer equipment to the branch shall not exceed 15 ft in length.
  14. Windows or pass-throughs located in fire resistant walls must be equipped with an automatic shutter, service counter fire door or fire-rated window that deploys automatically when exposed to fire or smoke. Such shutters, doors and windows must have a fire-resistance rating at least equal to that of the wall in which they are located.
  15. The air filters shall be arranged in such a way that they can be readily removed, inspected, cleaned, or replaced when necessary.
  16. If the design of the unit is such that oil or equivalent liquid is required for lubrication, cooling, or hydraulic purposes, it shall have a closed-cup flash point of 300°F (149°C) or higher, and the container shall be of a sealed construction.
  17. Cable and other penetrations must be fire stopped with a material that has a fire-resistance rating at least equal to that of the barrier in which the penetrations are located. Finally, air ducts and air transfer openings must be equipped with automatic fire and smoke dampers.
  18. Tiles of the raised floor should be properly sealed to confirm no leakage in cooling Air.
  19. Perforated tiles should be used in the cold aisle areas. And the amount of these tiles should 50% of the total cold aisle area to prevent loss in cooling system.
  20. All penetrations for passing of cable should be leakage proof.
  21. Minimum acceptable class ratings for interior wall, ceiling and floor finishes in both fully sprinklered and non-sprinklered IT equipment areas should be as defined in NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

2. Fire protection & detection

  • IT equipment areas and rooms should be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, a gaseous clean agent extinguishing system, or both. Areas to be protected with automatic sprinkler system are
    • At the ceiling level throughout the computer area
    • Below the raised floor of the computer area containing cables.
    • Above the suspended ceiling.
  • Fire protection for the building housing the computer area, in the data center, shall be provided where it is subject to damage from external exposure.
  • Automatic detection equipment shall be installed to provide early warning of fire.
  • Automated Information Storage System (AISS) units containing combustible media shall be protected by automatic sprinklers within each unit.
  • In certain cases, an automatic sprinkler system or a gaseous fire extinguishing system must also be installed below a raised floor.
  • Sprinkler systems used in IT equipment areas and rooms must be valved separately from other sprinkler systems.
  • Requires the installation of automatic fire detection equipment at both the ceiling level of the IT equipment area and below a raised floor housing cable. Smoke detection systems must also be installed to operate smoke dampers.
  • Smoke detectors in raised floor should be installed base up or in perpendicular position.
  • Requires the deployment of portable fire extinguishers (carbon dioxide based) to protect IT equipment. Dry chemical extinguishers are not permitted.
  • Signage must clearly indicate the type of fire for which each type of extinguisher is intended.
  • Electrical power to the interlocks and shutdown devices shall be supervised by the fire alarm control panel.
  • Where gaseous agent or inert gas agent total flooding systems are used, they shall be designed, installed, and maintained in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 12A.
  • Gaseous clean agent should be released automatically only after the activation of more than one smoke detectors.
  • The power to all electronic equipment shall be disconnected upon activation of a gaseous agent total flooding system.
  • Requirements for training IT equipment area personnel on the desired response to alarm conditions, the functioning of the alarm system and the location of all emergency equipment, tools and extinguishers.

3. Materials and equipment permitted

  1. Only computer equipment and support equipment shall be permitted in the computer room, next to data center.
  2. Office furniture in the computer room shall be of metal construction.
  3. Only approved self-extinguishing-type trash receptacles shall be used in the computer area.
  4. The amount of records within the data center/computer room shall be kept to the absolute minimum required for essential and efficient operation. Only records that are essential to the operations shall be permitted to be kept.
  5. Paper stock, inks, unused recording media, and other combustibles shall be restricted to the absolute minimum necessary for efficient operation.
  6. The space beneath the raised floor shall not be used for storage purposes.
  7. Abandoned cables shall not be allowed to accumulate. Cables not identified for future use shall be removed.

4. Utilities and others

  1. Any HVAC system that serves other occupancies shall also be permitted to serve the computer area.
  2. Either air ducts serving other rooms shall not pass through the computer area or fire dampers shall be provided in the ducts.
  3. All duct insulation and linings including coatings, shall have a flame spread rating not over 25.
  4. Requires that HVAC system dampers operate upon the activation of smoke detectors.
  5. Must comply with the requirements for premise transformers, systems that protect against lighting surges, electrical junction boxes, emergency lighting, electrical wiring and optical fiber cabling installed in the air space above suspended ceilings, signal wiring and cabling, and electric power supply cords.
  6. Premise transformers installed in the computer area shall be of the dry type or type filled with a non-combustible dielectric medium.
  7. Requires the provision of a method to disconnect power to all electronic equipment in the IT equipment area or room, as well as separate method to disconnect power to all dedicated HVAC systems and equipment.
  8. Protection against lightning surges shall be provided in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 70 (National electrical code).
  9. Emergency lighting shall be provided in the computer area.
  10. The branch-circuit conductors supplying one or more units of a data processing system shall have an ampacity not less than 125 percent of the total connected load.
  11. A means shall be provided to disconnect power to all electronic equipment in the information technology equipment room. There shall also be a similar means to disconnect the power to all dedicated HVAC systems serving the room and cause all required fire/smoke dampers to close.
  12. All exposed noncurrent-carrying metal parts of an information technology system shall be grounded in accordance with NFPA 70 (National electrical code).
  13. System should be protected by arc flash. Check methods to reduce arc flash.
  14. All wiring shall conform to NFPA 70 (National electrical code).
  15. Each unit of an information technology system supplied by a branch circuit shall be provided with a manufacturer’s nameplate, which shall also include the input power requirements for voltage, frequency, and maximum rated load in amperes.

5. Emergency and recovery procedures

  1. Requires the development of a management approved emergency fire plan, a damage control plan and a recovery procedures plan for continued operations.
  2. Each plan must be tested annually.

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