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Fire Cripples Data Center

May 14, 2013

Enable your Business’s Uptime and Continuity in the Event of a Fire

The reasoning is typical among data center owners and facility managers.

“We’ve never had a fire.”

“It would never happen here!”

“It’s too expensive, and we already have a sprinkler system.”

Yet fires do occur, and in the extraordinarily short period of time that a fire needs to devastate a property, the monetary “savings” from not having a fire suppression system dwindles into insignificance.

Such was the case last July, when a rapidly moving fire initiated by an explosion in a transformer room completely crippled the critical services offered by Shaw Communications, a large telecommunications company in Calgary. Although the company was protected by a sprinkler system the water-based response was no match for the quick fire. As a result, the Calgary Sun reported that more than 20,000 Shaw business and household clients watched their cable, telephone and internet services disappear almost immediately.

The Shaw Communications Building actually lost its power resources – and its backup systems – due to the fire. This initiated a ripple effect among its tenants, including IBM Canada Ltd., which utilized three floors of the building to power servers for several key government, health and financial services. The Calgary Herald reported that the sprinkler system ran for more than two hours, with the water soaking furniture, walls and sensitive electronic equipment on the floors below as it cascaded through the building.

Things continued to disintegrate for Shaw Communications in the ensuing hours and days as a result of the fire and water damage. It was reported that massive outages affected numerous Calgary service facilities, including the fire department, park sites, and business locations. Additionally, it was noted that surgeries were delayed by the Alberta Health Services and certain ambulance services experienced interruptions. Residents witnessed radio stations disappearing from the airwaves and the Alberta Motor Vehicle and Land Title Services were incapacitated. However, most critically, Calgary’s 3-1-1 “Information” phone line was inundated with calls because many citizens were unable to access the city’s 9-1-1 Emergency Line.

The initial investigation revealed the following finding – Shaw’s facility was only protected by a water-based fire protection system. This prompted many questions regarding relying solely on water to extinguish fires and protect high-tech infrastructure. The fire incident in Calgary exposed the potential devastating results when waterless clean extinguishing agent systems are not utilized to protect high-value, critical equipment and tech infrastructure. Shaw Communications fully complied with local mandates requiring a sprinkler system but the damage was still significant. So what is an effective alternative to water for fire suppression within high tech businesses?

Sprinkler systems have been the key “additional” facet for building fire protection for over 100 years. Sprinkler systems continue to save lives and property and are required in most metropolitan areas around the world. With the rapid development of “clean” agent systems over the past two decades, there is now a waterless method to address building fire threats where water cannot be used due to the nature of the assets within a specific space. Building owners can now “add” a clean agent system in a building already protected by a sprinkler system to offer another layer of protection. Clean agent systems react and discharge much more quickly than a sprinkler system, and no clean up is necessary following the discharge of such a system.

3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Protection Fluid is an excellent example of a clean extinguishing agent that quickly extinguishes fires, even before a fire can reach the “flame” stage. The quick extinguishing properties of Novec 1230 fluid helps avoid damage to the protected area and also precludes the need for sprinkler activation. Novec 1230 fluid is discharged as a gas allowing it to penetrate difficult areas such as server cabinets in order to extinguish hidden fire hazards. It then evaporates without leaving any residue – making it an ideal choice for protecting high-value electronic assets such as those housed in the Shaw Communications Building.

But what really sets Novec 1230 fluid apart is its unmatched environmental profile – with zero ozone depletion potential, a five-day atmospheric lifetime (compared to 65 years for Halon 1301) and a global warming potential of just “one” offering a 99.7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to HFCs (which are also used in clean agent suppression systems). This unique environmental profile makes Novec 1230 fluid a sustainable solution. Novec 1230 fluid is designed to replace HFCs which have global warming potentials in the range of 3,000 – 15,000 times CO2, targeting them for production and use phase-down under various global proposals. And in the event of a discharge in occupied spaces, Novec 1230 fluid offers the widest margin of safety of any chemical clean agent.

Because of these unique performance, safety and environmental properties Novec 1230 fluid is being used in an increasing number of electronic applications, computer rooms, data server locations, telecommunication facilities, and many more high tech infrastructures throughout the world.

While damaging fire incidents, such as at Shaw Communications, are rarely predictable, the presence of a waterless clean agent fire suppression system can help minimize and reduce costly downtime and damage to sensitive electronic equipment. In the era in which we all live today, the content and capabilities of such critical tech equipment is proving to be far more reaching than the equipment itself.

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