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Holistic Fire Protection for Data Centers

Your People, Your Clients and Their Data Deserve It

Installing a fire detection system in a data center – or any commercial building – is not optional. But selecting only the bare minimum equipment to comply with local codes – when lives, assets and irrecoverable data are on the line – can be a risky and shortsighted proposition, especially now that a host of new technologies have brought about dramatic improvements in fire protection and life safety. 

In a departure from the piecemeal solutions of the past, these advanced technologies can be integrated into a system of systems, enabling a holistic solution that covers all the bases of fire and smoke detection, notification, communications, and maintenance and support. Combining very early smoke detection apparatus (VESDA) with smart alarm control panels, off-gas detection, bi-directional amplification (BDA) and emergency voice communications makes it more possible than ever to fully address the unusual challenges posed by a data center, with its confined spaces, secured areas, cooling systems and racks of batteries. 

A paradigm shift in sampling technology

The Honeywell VESDA system uses aspirating smoke detection (ASD) to sample air continuously, helping to detect a potential threat at the earliest stages and allowing a timely response. Unlike traditional detection technology – which is largely passive, waiting for smoke to reach spot sensors – Honeywell VESDA uses a network of tubing to actively draw in and test air, so dilution or stratification cannot ‘hide’ smoke. The momentary presence of smoke in air ducts, for example, makes it difficult to detect quickly and accurately when using only static spot sensors. Honeywell VESDA technology draws air from targeted locations throughout a building back to a central unit that continuously monitors for trace amounts of smoke. A potential fire can be extinguished at its source before it disrupts operations.

A smart alarm panel pulls it all together

A modern, smart fire alarm control panel maximizes the synergy of these systems while significantly reducing the occurrence of nuisance alarms. When integrated with a Honeywell VESDA detection system, a smart panel extends sensing capability far beyond that of typical spot-type detectors – particularly when it’s used in a critical-infrastructure application such as a data center, where even a trace amount of undetected smoke is unacceptable.

When used together, Honeywell’s VESDA ASD technology and fire alarm control panels can buy time to investigate an alarm and initiate an appropriate response to prevent injury, property damage and business disruptions.

Off-gassing detection halts thermal runaway before it starts

Battery energy storage systems (BESS) made up of thousands of lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells play an increasingly critical role in the transition to renewable energy and smarter power grids. They’ve also become a key component of data centers and telecom hubs – both drivers of economic vitality worldwide.

While they’ve become the enabling technology for these facilities, Li-ion cells require intensive management to keep them operating within safe parameters of voltage, temperature and charge. If they fail, they begin to off-gas and generate excessive heat, which can cause the electrolyte in the cells to ignite. This can escalate into ‘thermal runaway’ as the heat spreads to surrounding cells in an accelerating domino effect and potentially result in a catastrophic fire that is very hard to extinguish.

An off-gas detection system such as Li-ion Tamer by Honeywell can proactively forestall thermal runaway. Conventional smoke and fire detection are still essential to address other threats, but off-gas detection – when integrated into a smart panel – can initiate shutdown measures that isolate the affected section of the battery storage system, preventing further heat propagation that could develop into thermal runaway.

Voice alarm systems make for orderly evacuations

Another new technology, emergency voice alarm communications (EVACS), is increasingly viewed as an essential component of life safety systems. A voice message that tells building occupants exactly how to respond to an emergency has proven much more effective than a conventional alarm tone, because it helps to defuse panic and enable an orderly evacuation. Providing early warnings and clear instructions to occupants is critical to protecting lives and maintaining business continuity.

Bi-directional amplification

Honeywell’s bidirectional amplifier (BDA) enhances RF radio communication between first responders outside a building and those who go into harm’s way on the inside. Where signals are weakened in tunnels or basements – or by concrete, low-emissivity glass or other building materials – emergency communications can become unreliable. In many areas, codes now specify a minimum level of RF signal transmissibility within a building.

Maintenance and service: a critical advantage

While a holistic solution brings a new level of protection to data centers, it rests on a major caveat: If a supplier can’t provide dedicated maintenance and service to keep these advanced systems operating to their capabilities, it can compromise that protection. Honeywell maintains a global network of over 500 Engineered Systems Distributors, each of which provides a crew of technicians who are fully trained to install, maintain and service Honeywell systems and certified to all local and industry standards.

Opt for a holistic, integrated solution

The peripheral systems discussed here are agnostic – that is, compatible with most other components on the market. However, Honeywell’s VESDA aspirating smoke detection system and fire alarm control panels – the core of the solution – will provide better functionality and more data access if they are fully integrated up front. This is particularly important in data centers, where timely notification of a fire incident can mean the difference between a near-miss and disaster. Further integrating BDA, EVACS, and off-gas detection such as Li-ion Tamer by Honeywell serve to strengthen the overall fire safety capabilities. Protecting these solutions with expert maintenance and support ensures system functionality and offers peace of mind. A modular solution may be fine for other applications, but where lives and irrecoverable data are at stake, a fully integrated, holistic solution is the safer way to go. 

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