The Raritan Blog

Fire and Ice: Data Center Environmental Monitoring

Jessica Ciesla
August 19, 2021

This blog from Raritan addresses the role of data center environmental monitoring and Smart Sensors in the detection and prevention of data center fires. 

It has been an unusually tough spring season for the data center industry, with several notable and catastrophic center outages occurring in just the past few months. In February, frigid temperatures and a vicious ice storm brought much of the Southern United States to a screeching halt, followed by several newsworthy data center fires. In March, French hosting company OVH suffered an extensive fire at its SBG2 facility, captured in this video, followed by a battery-related incident that filled its SBG1 facility with enough smoke that it was deemed irreparable less than 2 weeks later.  

When It Comes to Data Centers, Disaster Protocols Must Include a Fire Plan 

According to Uptime Institute’s Andy Lawrence, the OVH incident is only one of 10 recent data center fires on their radar. While several experts have speculated about the causes surrounding the OVH blaze, common themes have emerged about data-center design. These types of events are humble reminders about the best-laid plans of mice and men, and that even carefully designed facilities have vulnerabilities. Ironically, most data center fires are caused by the very systems designed to keep them powered in the event of a disaster. 

In the case of both OVH incidents, the culprit was the UPS and battery system; in fact, the second event in SBG1 was attributed to a battery that was in storage and not in use. In another recent incident, at the WebNX facility in Utah in early April, an emergency generator experienced a catastrophic failure while supporting the facility during a power outage. 

An Ounce of Prevention 

With the industry’s focus currently turned to improving fire safety, it is important to remember that most rack PDU manufacturers offer data center environmental sensors. These include sensors that measure rack air temperature at the server inlets, as well as humidity, airflow, vibrations, smoke, water, and air pressure. Some rack mount PDUs will have pre-installed sensors; others provide connectors for optional, plug-in, external sensors. 

Rack-based sensors play an important role before, during, and after an outage event: 

  • Before: Placing sensors and detectors at the rack level puts a layer of security around the most vulnerable part of the data center, the IT equipment. 
  • During: Feedback from detectors at the rack level allows operators to understand the spread of the issue in real-time and to identify exactly where and how it is spreading in the facility. 
  • After: Data stored from rack-based detectors provides important forensic information that gives the company, civil authorities, and investigators insight into the event. 

Environmental sensors make it possible to receive early alerts, keep a fire contained, and extinguished it as quickly as possible before further devastation occurs within a data center or facility. 

Contact us here at Raritan to learn more about SmartSensors and how they can support your data center monitoring needs.