Data Centers At Risk of Fire

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A recent transformer explosion and fire at a Web hosting company illustrates how the equipment required to operate a data center increases the risk of fire. The ever-increasing volume of data in server rooms and the value of mission critical information makes it more important than ever to protect IT equipment.

Protecting the servers from a catastrophic fire is not just about saving equipment and minimizing downtime. It's even more important to preserve the data.

A recent transformer explosion and fire at a data center in the Southwest knocked 7,500 customers' Web sites offline, due to loss of power. The explosion knocked down three walls and the fire burned the power equipment in that area, but luckily no one was injured. Fortunately for the Web hosting company and its customers, the fire was extinguished before it reached the server room. If the fire had destroyed the servers, it is likely something much more valuable than the equipment would have been lost---mission critical information.

The high voltage transformers, UPS systems and HVAC equipment required to operate a data center makes these facilities vulnerable to the threat of fire, as witnessed by this event in Houston. The trend toward increased density of equipment in server racks and the exponential growth of storage capacity on this equipment means vast volumes of data could be lost in a single incident. The rate of information change, along with the sheer volume of data, has made it increasingly difficult to perform data back ups that capture all mission critical information. Todd Smith, Director of Marketing for FIRELOCK asserts: "Protecting the servers from a catastrophic fire is not just about saving equipment and minimizing downtime. It's even more important to preserve the data." More than half of all businesses that lose their critical information go out of business within 18 months.

In the last few years FIRELOCK has seen increasing demand for their Class 125 fireproof Server Vaults. The patented modular panel system utilizes ceramic fiber (a high temperature industrial insulating material) to keep the temperature inside the vault chamber below 125-degrees F, the point at which data is destroyed, even if temperatures outside the vault reach 2,000-degrees F. A double door assembly with automatic door closers is required to reach this Class 125 rating, along with specially insulated penetrations for power and network cables, coolant lines, and air ducting. The insulated dampers can even be equipped with airflow vectoring fins to help eliminate hot spots from heat-generating servers. These components allow all the network connectivity, power delivery and cooling capacity required by server rooms without compromising the integrity of the data vault.

Energy use for server equipment and for the required cooling is creating a cost over-run environment for data centers. The annual cost of the energy is often greater than the hardware. The move to redundant data centers is inflating this cost at the same time that government is placing pressure on corporations to reduce power consumption. The rapid obsolescence of computer hardware also makes building multiple centers extremely expensive. The protective shell of a Server Vault may be the only equipment still functional after a five-year cycle. The use of Server Vaults to protect a Virtual Environment allows smaller centers to be used, thus limiting power needs and at the same time providing greater security.

Another factor that makes protecting corporate information a high priority is enforcement of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Corporate officers are responsible for providing auditors with financial data and other information. Failure to do so can result in harsh fines or even prison time, regardless of the reason the information was lost. Because so much data is now on the servers, the corporate officers liable for the protection of mission critical information are seeking ways to protect it. FIRELOCK Server Vaults are a cost-effective and efficient way to protect this valuable information.

In conclusion, the transformer explosion at this data centers illustrates how even a well-equipped facility is at risk of fire. Major fires like this raise the question: What if there were no servers to bring back on-line because they were destroyed in the fire? Being off-line is very costly, especially to Web-based retailers, but losing mission critical data can be fatal to companies that can't recover their vital information. Infrastructure redundancy can help with minimizing downtime, but to ensure the survival of data at least one facility should be protected by a Class 125 data vault. Because the equipment that supports data center operations also increases the risk of fire, conscientious facility planners need a way to address this threat. FIRELOCK Server Vaults provide the level of protection these survival-oriented planners demand.

FIRELOCK provides custom design expertise and manufactures and installs modular Server Vaults and record storage vaults in a variety of sizes, from small rooms up to 25,000 cu. ft. These vaults are designed to provide UL Class 125 fire protection, along with environmental controls for your critical or vital information assets. Lightweight, expandable panel systems are available to construct fire-safe and heat-safe vaults for the protection of IT infrastructure, magnetic media, micrographic media, and optical disks. The FIRELOCK vault is the highest rated fire protection storage environment for heat-sensitive processing equipment and computer media available in the industry. Our client list includes service organizations of all types and sizes from diverse industries, ranging from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, to major financial houses and state and local government agencies. Information about FIRELOCK is available at


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