VESDA vs. Spot Detectors: Choosing the Right Solution for Your Data Center
Data center fires can be more than momentarily disruptive: just one fire can cost millions of dollars in lost revenue, affect thousands of businesses and put the health and safety of workers in serious jeopardy. In fact, fires and other catastrophic events reveal how indispensable data centers have become to our technology-driven global economy and why it’s vital to keep them up and running.
The consequences of smoke and fire
Unfortunately, data center failures are not uncommon. While the most frequent culprits – including hardware and software issues, power interruptions, mechanical failures, cybercrime attacks and human error - can cause serious disruptions, none are as potentially destructive as smoke and fire. Even relatively small fire incidents can cause significant damage if they trigger the data center's fire suppression systems, which can damage or destroy sensitive electronic hardware.
Though relatively rare, data center fires can be caused by:
- Faulty or bad wiring
- Accidental short-circuiting
- Human error
- Electric overloads
Data center fires can wreak devastating operational and financial damage, causing prolonged outages that result in millions of dollars lost. According to research by Ponemon Institute, the average cost of an unplanned data center outage is nearly $9,000 per minute,[i] not counting additional costs related to the loss of data servers and damage to property from smoke, fire and water. Fires also pose an incalculable risk to the lives and safety of personnel and to an organization’s professional reputation and brand.
Two options for fire protection
Whether a company operates its own data centers or contracts space from third-party providers, it is important to have in place a fire protection strategy that includes an advanced fire detection system. The most effective systems not only can detect an active fire quickly but also can sense a potential fire before it even starts. More importantly, if a fire does occur, the fire and life safety system provides measures to help effectively evacuate personnel and alert first responders, helping to minimize damage to the facility and protect the data center and its customer’s brands.
The limitations of spot detectors in data centers
Today, there are two primary options for data center fire prevention and detection: spot detectors and aspirating smoke detectors (ASDs). Traditional spot detectors are the most common and most well-known type of smoke and fire detectors. A typical spot detector responds to smoke particles produced by a fire by sounding an alarm. It detects smoke [ii] by using photoelectric detection technology which works by detecting light that is reflected off particles from a beam inside the device. When a certain number of particles are present, the light reflecting off the beam reaches a specific threshold and triggers and alarm.
Spot detectors offer several benefits that could make them passable options for data centers. They can detect both smoldering and flaming fires and are sensitive to different types of smoke. Depending on the situation, they may initially be less expensive to install than ASDs. Spot detectors require a high volume of smoke particles to activate, so they may not sound off until a fire has taken significant hold. They are also more prone to false alarms, which can cause costly downtime in a data center. They also require the installation and ongoing maintenance of multiple units throughout a location, which can be costly and inconvenient, especially in larger data centers.
Why ASDs are the better choice
ASDs (Aspirating Smoke Detectors) employ more sophisticated and robust early-detection technology. Using a system of PVC pipes installed throughout a data center, they actively and continuously sample air particles, literally “sniffing” the environment for the first signs of smoke or fire. Unlike spot detectors, which often have smoke entry lag time, their ability to sound an alarm at the earliest signs of trouble can save precious minutes and, depending on the situation, can help personnel buy time to deal with the issue or get to safety quickly.
With high sensitivity and early detection capabilities, VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) systems are often recognized as the most effective and technologically advanced ASD solutions in the world. In nearly every case, they can outperform common spot-detection systems in large data centers because the lightweight pipes can be placed almost anywhere in the building. This allows for maximum coverage areas across a facility and eliminates the need to install dozens of individual spot-detection units. VESDA systems can also differentiate between smoke and dust, reducing the incidence of false alarms.
Though the initial equipment costs of VESDA systems may be slightly higher than spot detectors, one VESDA system can do the work of 120 spot units. This can dramatically lower the installation and maintenance costs and make VESDA the less expensive and easier-to-install option overall, especially for larger facilities.
An early smoke and fire detection system can potentially be the first line of defense in averting a major data center disaster and can save millions of dollars in costly downtime.
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[i] Ponemon Institute, Cost of Data Center Outages, January 2016. [Accessed April 1, 2022].
[ii] Nist.gov, How Do Smoke Detectors Work?, National Institute of Standards and Technology, June 28, 2021 [March 18 ,2022]
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