Manufacturers’ focus on data centers: Fire and life safety

Designing efficient and effective data centers and mission critical facilities is a top priority for consulting engineers.



  • John Kovach, Global Head of Data Center Initiatives, Siemens, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Fire/Life safety

CSE: What new detection or suppression system, product, or method do you see becoming the most prevalent? Describe a recent project.

Kovach: Very early warning fire detection (VEWFD) is key to minimizing downtime in data centers—a fire can be detected at the very earliest stage. Today’s VEWFD systems tend to be air-aspirating with pipe networks that extend into the protected areas. Leading VEWFD systems such as the VESDA system can sense smoke particles at an obscuration level as low as 0.0015%/ft. This is much lower than the typical spot detector and therefore provides a warning much earlier in the incipient stage of the fire. Until recently, systems such as VESDA were stand-alone products or required multiple relays to communicate with the main fire alarm control panel (FACP). New developments have led to the intelligent high-level interface (HLI) that provides seamless connectivity between the FACP and the VESDA system, providing benefits such as single point of annunciation and control for all VEWFD detectors, reduced installation complexity, reduced equipment costs, reduced installation time, reduced wall space requirements, and the addition of full-event annunciation.

Many benefits emerge from the full-event annunciation available with the HLI. One such benefit includes understanding the nature of a fault, allowing technicians to come to the site prepared with prior knowledge of the nature of the problem, as opposed to a general fault notification from a relay. For example, a technician could determine that a sampling tube was broken due to a high airflow trouble or, conversely, could tell that a tube was blocked due to a low air-flow condition. Such a system was installed recently at a major data center in Massachusetts where significant hours of labor and 452 monitored modules of hardware were saved thanks to the HLI. All these savings were achieved while providing additional critical information to the customer.

Kevin , , 02/08/13 08:55 AM:

A discussion of fire detection and prevention is long overdue as it relates to legacy data centers. Too many modifications such as return air plenums, aisle containment and high density racks deployment have taken place without looking at the effects they have on smoke detection, clean agent concentrations, sprinkler coverage, etc. Early smoke detection (VESDA) in legacy data centers could help with early warning of an event but the effects of containment and other modifications can significantly affect traditional smoke and heat detection which often are used for activation of clean agent and pre-action systems.