Fire Wire is 3M Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid’s quarterly fire suppression newsletter, developed for specifying engineers, architects and everyone else working in special hazards fire protection.
When Telegraph Media Group decided to install a new fire suppression system for its data center in London UK, specifying engineers faced a design challenge: protecting critical infrastructure with insufficient room venting and minimal cylinder storage space. In addition, their solution had to meet the client’s environmental sustainability requirements.
In the end, Telegraph Media Group adopted a solution that its Services Director called the “runaway winner on environmental grounds” while occupying zero usable floor space.
Specifiers evaluated a range of clean extinguishing agents on their customer’s behalf, then developed a new solution based around 3M’s Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid. This solution abandoned the traditional system design approach used in chemical clean agent systems and instead mounted a compact set of cylinders around the building’s support columns, in otherwise unusable space – meeting the customer’s need for nominal venting and minimal floor space use.
In addition, Novec 1230 fluid’s global warming potential of less than one, backed by a 20-year 3M™ Blue Sky℠ Warranty against regulatory action, ensured that it would be a data center fire protection solution for the future of Telegraph Media Group.
It started with a sound, but it didn’t end there. Early one morning in April, an inert gas fire suppression system accidentally discharged in a data center supporting the Nasdaq stock exchange’s northern European operations. The long, loud system discharge (inert gas system discharges can last up to 120 seconds under the ISO 14520-1 standard) destroyed many of Nasdaq’s server hard drives by jarring and misaligning their read/write heads. According to DatacenterDynamics, in a market where every second counts, trading was shut down for most of a day.
Yet despite the impact of this disruption, it’s not uncommon. In 2016, the BBC reported that the noise and frequency produced by testing an inert gas fire suppression system had knocked out both ING Bank’s main data center and its customer communications system for 10 hours.
Fact – but highly dependent on the type of system. Pre-discharge alarms can damage hard drives, as can the system discharge itself. There are numerous cases of data centers suffering damage from the sound of high-volume, long-duration agent discharges from inert gas systems, while halocarbon systems like those based on 3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Protection Fluid and Chemours™ FM-200® have not been reported to cause similar damage.
Modern hard drives depend on an extremely precise alignment between the read/write head and the disk itself. As little as 12nm of misalignment can cause them to fail. During a fire suppression system discharge, high-volume, long-duration noise at specific frequencies can misalign these drives (PDF, 11.22 KB) and cause permanent damage across an entire facility.
Inert gas systems must displace >34% of the volume of the protected area to reduce the oxygen level below what will support combustion. This requires a long, high-volume, high-pressure discharge (up to 120 seconds for a Class A hazard), which produces a lot of intense noise and has the potential to damage servers. Since 2008, there have been numerous instances of data centers suffering hard drive failure as a result of such inert gas system discharges.
In contrast, halocarbon clean agents extinguish the fire by rapid cooling, so much less agent is typically required to reach the necessary design concentration and the discharge is much shorter. Agents like Novec 1230 fluid have much shorter discharge times (up to 12 times less than many inert gas systems) and enable unique system designs that may reduce noise. As a result, to date there are no reported instances of a halocarbon clean agent system discharge causing hard drive damage.
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