Fire Safety Engineering for Data Centers Requires Specific Expertise

Juho Pussinen

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Jan 23, 2023

With the rise of digitalization, large data centres are constantly growing. Safe and well-designed physical facilities and data centres are required to provide cloud services and storage. Fire safety became one of the top concerns for data centres providers. What happens if a fire breaks out in one of the facilities covering hectares? Therefore, a wide range of applied skills in fire engineering is required to develop a fire safety design for these data centres.

In this article, we investigate how fire safety design can be applied in the development of large data centres to provide safe and secure facilities.

A Guide Through Fire Safety Design in Data Centres

Data centres are complex entities. The development of fire safety design is required in relatively tight and complex spaces where computer rooms should be constantly ventilated to prevent hardware overheating. In addition, the interior design of the data centres often includes a lowered ceiling or raised floor to accommodate the sprinklers and fire extinguishers.

The successful completion of a data centre involves considering specific building features, exceptional structural engineering solutions along with a wide range of expertise.

Fire Containment at the Heart of the Design

From a data preservation and security perspective, it is important to effectively contain a potential fire. Although data centres have characteristics that differ significantly from other buildings, the core of their fire safety lies in strict fire compartmentation, rated fire doors, and carefully implemented fire barriers.

It is important that both the design experts and the contractors involved in the construction work carefully implement and document the fire barriers and partitions. Problems caused by mistakes can spread to a surprisingly wide area. For example, if a passage is left unsealed and smoke damage is allowed to spread to other fire compartments, the damage caused by the fire will quickly multiply. In practice, such a single event could affect the core business of the data centre’s customers in several countries.

Overlapping Needs for Access Control and Exit Security

The quality of the data stored in data centres is particularly driven by access control requirements. Often in large data centres, the movement of people is restricted by area or zone which can affect the design and implementation of exit security.

Therefore, it is the role of the fire safety expert to create a solution that ensures at the same time the safe movement of people through exit routes and secure access control to the site with a safe data storage unit.

ATEX Directive Must Also Be Taken into Account in Data Centres

In the event of a power cut, the service centres need to be able to secure their energy supply by storing significant amount of diesel used as back up fuel source. Hence, the fire safety design of data centres must typically also take into account the protective measures required for the storage of flammable liquids in accordance with the ATEX Directive.

Operations of the Rescue Department in the Data Centre Area

The largest data centres can cover from several tens to hundreds of hectares, creating a rather atypical environment for a rescue service compared to the usually built environment. The role of the fire safety expert is to address the operational requirements of the rescue service at the design stage, so that access routes, extinguishing water, and fire detector panels are readily available.

In addition, the fire safety team will support the rescue service in any exercises during the commissioning phase of the new data centre in order to ensure that rescue operations in real-life situations are as smooth as possible.

Jensen Hughes' Expertise in Data Centre Projects

Jensen Hughes fire safety experts are involved in designing fire safety for data centres around the world. Each country has its own set of regulations that guide the practical implementation of solutions locally.

While there is a lot of data to store and secure on a global scale, not all data centres are created equal in terms of security. For example, the security requirements for storing personal and health data are different from those for storing photographs. A competent fire consultant can carry out the level of security required at the site and match the data centre’s fire security solutions to the right scale.

Jensen Hughes has been involved in several large data centre projects in Finland. We have experience with dozens of refurbished facilities in existing buildings as well as new buildings and new data centre sites. Finland's geographical location in the north creates energy-saving benefits due to the fact that the cooling of data rooms is cost-effective most of the year.

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About the author

Juho Pussinen
Juho has close to ten years of experience as a fire safety expert. Before joining the fire safety industry, Juho studied process engineering at the University of Oulu and worked in process industry plants in the paper and chemical industry.