Victaulic – Flexible fire protection can help drive the world’s digital future

Dec 14, 2023

Datacentres for better security

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Flexible fire protection can help drive the world’s digital future

One of the fastest growing markets for fire protection systems is the data centre industry, where ease of installation, consistency of design, reliability and flexibility are all highly prized, says Graeme Leonard, EMEA Division Manager – Fire Protection at Victaulic.

The data centre industry is growing at an exponential rate, tripling every decade. In 2020 the global market was worth $187 billion, and by 2030 it is expected to be worth $517 billion. Today there are more than 8,000 data centres worldwide, each with an average floorspace of 100,000 m2. It’s a colossal business that continues to grow aggressively year-on-year – a multi-billion-dollar industry where the stakes are high.

Data centres are critical for the global economy and, understandably, fire protection is a vital part of their design. At Victaulic, it’s also an important segment of our work: our systems are now protecting over 1,300 exabytes of data. If you’re asking yourself what an ‘exabyte’ is, then you’re probably not alone – the term has only existed for a couple of years (again, another reflection of the rapid growth in the data market). For the record, one exabyte is equivalent to one billion gigabytes (GB) or 500 trillion sheets of printed paper!

Unique requirements

Fires in data centres are rare, yet the consequences are huge. Damage that causes a loss of functionality can have significant negative impacts on businesses and communities across a wide area. Because of this, delivering fire protection to data centres demands a unique set of design requirements as the facilities are packed with technology; with densely populated rows and racks of temperature-controlled equipment alternating between hot and cold aisles alongside complex cooling systems that maintain temperatures.

Designing a fire protection system for a data centre should meet a number of protection imperatives. Not only should it provide effective defence, but limit collateral water damage when activated, to protect the high-value capital equipment inside. This is also why leaks from the system and pipework, caused by accidents or system wear, also have to be minimised.

In addition to first-class protection, data centre owners are looking for standardisation. Owners are often global technology giants who operate across multiple markets and look for consistency everywhere. They are also looking for adaptability so that the architecture within a data centre can change as demand grows. And, finally, customers want to know they’re getting value for money, and that means the lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO).

Best practice, best design

When beginning a data centre’s fire protection design there are multiple best practice solutions to consider. Firstly, ensuring there is a preaction system in place. From Victaulic, this will typically be a double interlock set-up, with cross-zoned detection, with an option for auto convert to back up power in case the central power supply is unavailable. Dry pendent drops are another sensible inclusion, not least to ensure the system instantly complies with recognised sprinkler installation standards for fire protection systems.

In edge data centres there can also be the option to use a hybrid fire suppression system such as the Victaulic Vortex system. This will deliver the right level of protection to the mission-critical infrastructure inside the facility. The [FM-approved] hybrid nitrogen and water solution used in Victaulic Vortex rapidly extinguishes fires without using toxic chemicals and ensuring minimal disruption to ongoing operations – an ideal solution for data centres.

Flexibility is key

As mentioned earlier, flexibility is another key consideration, yet simultaneously something that is harder to deliver. Data centres are typically designed for a lifespan of 30 years, but usage levels are usually planned only for five-year periods. This makes it difficult to design a complete lifespan system at the outset, because we know air flow containment and racks will change over time, only we can’t be sure how they will change. Given this, how do you design a system that can keep up with the change?

One solution from Victaulic is the VicFlexTM Style VS1 UL Listed and FM Approved Flexible Dry Pendent sprinkler. This design enables easier relocation of the outlet as building configurations change. As with many other Victaulic products, careful attention has been paid to ease of installation on site. The system offers lengths of 38”, 50” or 58”, each able to accommodate four 90˚ bends for maximum versatility.

Traditionally, fire protection systems use dry pendant drops to protect these risks. The hard pipe drops require bespoke lengths based on precise measurements to perfectly fit the dimensions of a space. Multiple trips to a job site are then required for measurements, design, and installation. In the data centre industry, this presents many challenges. The architecture of a data centre changes regularly – servers are added and additional rooms built.

Our VS1 solution offers the complete flexibility that is needed within a data centre, paired with the dry sprinkler system that guarantees additional accuracy.

The unique braided pipe in VicFlex Style VS1 is up to 10 times faster to install than alternative threaded black pipe systems. The product arrives on site ready to install and the need for hard wired piping systems is eliminated. Aims of keeping water as far away from the servers are met and the flexible nature of the solution ensures that as the architecture of the room changes, data centre fire protection can be easily maintained. and with its choice of standard lengths there’s no messy cutting required on site.

Exciting future

Having standardised and easy-to-install systems is a real advantage for data centres and helps owners establish the consistency they seek in their global operations. And with ‘plug and play’ solutions there’s not only design consistency but also reliability in installation to make it easier to accommodate preferred designs at multiple locations. A further advantage of the Victaulic solutions is that installation specialists need less time on site, which data centre owners appreciate as they like to maintain commercial privacy at their sites for obvious reasons.

Victaulic has worked on data centres across the globe, so we know everyone gets the same level of service, installation and effectiveness, no matter where they are.

As I mentioned at the start, flexibility is key with data centres and in the future it will become even more so. The industry continues to grow rapidly and advances such as edge data centres and localized IoT (internet of things) networks, as well as the increased popularity of AI solutions, will only require greater flexibility. In tomorrow’s world, our data will be one of our most precious commodities and it’s exciting to think that Victaulic solutions have a critical role to play in protecting it.

Visit the DCME Blog Page to read more on data centre industry ‘hot topics'.

This post was written by Graeme Leonard, EMEA Division Manager – Fire Protection, Victaulic