Fire suppression and climate control systems are both essential to effective data center operations. Thing is, they can also represent a significant threat to your facility if they aren’t properly-maintained. Just look at what happened to the Glasgow City Council’s IT systems last year.
Due to the ‘catastrophic failure’ of an air conditioning unit, an unidentified gas was released into the city council’s data center. Though details weren’t released on its composition, it was evidently enough to trigger a fire suppression unit, perhaps fooling the sensors into thinking the room was filled with smoke. The unit immediately sprayed several IT systems with fire extinguisher fluid, causing an IBM storage array to fail.
There was also reportedly an ‘explosive shockwave;’ a powerful release of gas which shook the building.
You should already have noticed several problems with this. Firstly, it’s unclear why the city council’s fire suppression systems were designed to spray any sort of coolant – it should have been obvious to whoever designed the building that liquids, foams, and chemicals in general don’t really mix well with computing equipment. A proper suppression system should release inert gas to extinguish flames, leaving server equipment unmolested.
This isn’t the only design failure that can crop up with a fire suppression system, either – even those that properly extinguish flames can still cause irreparable damage.
A few years ago, a French data center was brought down by an unknown issue. The outage, it turns out, occurred when a technician accidentally triggered the facility’s fire suppression systems, causing a chain reaction throughout the facility. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem – at the least, it would cost a bit of money to repair and reset everything.
In this case, however, it seems someone configured the things improperly, and the release of gas from the suppression system’s nozzles caused an ear-splitting noise. This noise went hand-in-hand with vibrations strong enough that it actually destroyed much of the data center’s infrastructure. Again, it’s a little baffling that something like this could happen; did the technicians not test the fire suppression systems beforehand to see what sort of impact they’d have?
Either way, the two scenarios described above make one thing very clear: if you’ve improperly configured or installed a fire suppression system, it can cause just as much damage to your data center as a fire, maybe more. It’s therefore critical that you test things extensively once you’ve installed them. Otherwise, you might end up breaking your servers in the interest of safety.
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