The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes codes and standards for the fire and rescue industry. Data centers, being susceptible to fire, would do well to adopt the NFPA Standard 75, which is “Fire Protection for Electronic Data Processing Equipment.”
NFPA 75 lays down standards for protecting IT equipment such as servers, cables and storage devices from fire heat, smoke and water.
- It lists out various risk considerations and stipulates various requirements pertaining to building construction, location of IT equipment within the building, penetrations and openings, stipulations on raised floors, and more.
- It lists out the different possible protections against the risks. For instance, it mandates a water sprinkler system for the data center, or in the absence of it, a gaseous clean-agent system, with Halon, Argon or any other gas.
- The standards are comprehensive, covering warning signs, training, record keeping and audits, among other aspects.
NFPA 75 is the minimum required standards. There is no harm in the data center exceeding the NFPA stipulations, provided such upgrades fit in with acceptable methods and technology. For instance, it is always advisable to consider the deployment of a gaseous clean-agent system even when a water sprinkler system is in place. Many data centers use gas based systems, considering that water can damage data centers just as bad as fire could.
NFPA deployments may also make it necessary to deploy something extra, even when extras are not part of the standards. For instance, the acoustic noise that sets in when the gas is discharged to contain the fire may damage storage drives. Using nozzles to reduce the noise or deploying noise reducing baffles help. Alternatively, shutting down the storage systems completely before releasing the gas also prevents damage.
A point to note is that NFPA standards are not static. It is revised frequently to keep pace with the evolution of information technology electronics and the advancements in fire detection technology.
Finally, NFPA lays down the standards, but is not an evaluating agency. Evaluation is carried out by independent third-party assessors.