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Halon is an odorless, colorless gas that extinguishes fire by tweaking combustion process. It was embraced by places such as data centers, libraries, and art museums because it didnít leave any residue. But in late 1990s, Halon was found to be environmentally damaging, as well as potentially harmful to anyone doused by it?not a good situation for IT employees who might be in data center when a fire breaks out in building.
Although Halon was banned for new construction, it wasnít outlawed, and refill tanks are still available for systems that are still in place. That means if a data center manager is looking to colocate, and facility in question was built before mid-í90s, itís possible that a Halon system is in place. Besides environmental and health concerns, itís worth thinking about stripping system or looking for another facility, Sacco notes, because Halon is frequently considered a poor alternative to a water-based system. For Halon to work, room has to be airtight because gas is heavier than air. That means any raised flooring or open vents could render system less effective.
Data Center Makeovers For companies that arenít building a new data center but want to spiff up their existing facility, fire protection issues get more complicated. The replacement of one system with another isnít just a discussion for architect and IT department head; rather, local fire authorities also have to be involved. Sometimes a municipality wonít allow a nonsprinkler system to be put in place, no matter how effective it might have proven to be in other facilities.
ďUnfortunately, systems have to conform to rules set up by municipality where data center is located,Ē says Sacco. ďThe fire inspector could approve a chemical-based system in new construction but not approve capping of a wet sprinkler system in a remodel. Thatís pretty common.Ē
In that case Sacco notes that data center managers should work with architects to develop a preaction system, which holds water in check until itís absolutely necessary. Such a system will fill pipes with water but wonít release it until thereís a significant amount of heat in room.
In general Sacco recommends that every data center, whether new or old, should have a multilayered system in place for fire protection. That includes having latest fire suppression system but also doing periodic testing, assigning responsibility for system upkeep, and integrating fire protection with other temperature controls.