Bad Ideas

So I got to go into the building where a large car company keeps all of the computer servers for all of the world. There are 4 rooms of rows and rows of servers. Anyway, I don’t think that it would be smart to have a SPRINKLER system in those rooms. Water damage would take down the servers around the world. Everywhere else in any building that had sensitive equipment had FM 200 so what the heck?

Are you sure it wasn’t so other form of suppression? Halon, CO2, FM-200, and Inergen pipes can look similar to sprinkler system piping, although the latter three systems have noticeably larger and strangely shaped nozzles. However, Halon systems especially can have nozzles with deflectors that are very reminiscent of water sprinklers.

If it is truly a sprinkler system in a data center like that, it likely has a pre-action system of some sort in place to prevent an accidental discharge or leak. In this case, it would require a manual confirmation of an alarm from a pull station or an automatic confirmation, usually from more than one smoke or heat detector, before the pre-action valve is opened. Then, it would still require the individual sprinkler heads to activate from the heat as well before water could be released.

Here’s a picture of a bg 12 marked preaction sprinkler, definently not FM 200 because they have those huge bronze novels with holes in the side

So you were correct in that it is a sprinkler system. Somebody would have to pull that pull station (or have confirmation from smoke detectors) before the pre-action valve would be opened to allow water into the sprinkler pipes, at least for those server rooms.

It does seem silly to have a destructive water sprinkler system in there when there are so many alternatives to prevent damage to the equipment, but as with most things there must be a reason, whether it makes sense or not, for the system to be as it is.

A lot of data centers are normally covered by both the clean agent system and pre-action system - the clean agent system is connected to smoke detectors that offer the primary protection for the space - the pre-action system is connected to heat detectors and offer the backup protection to the space. The theory being that the smoke detectors will activate first, when that doesn’t handle the fire, the heat detectors will activate at 135 degrees, putting the pre-action fire alarm panel into a “pre-alarm” state followed by the sprinkler head activating at 155 degrees, activating the low air switch on the sprinkler system which then puts the pre-action fire alarm panel in a full ALARM state firing off the solenoid. So basically three things have to happen before water is released into the space - smoke detector activation, heat detector activation, sprinkler activation. That manual pull station should bypass everything and fire off the solenoid immediately and start filling the system with water. No water will come out unless a sprinkler head is activated. There is also a manual release valve on the sprinkler system trim that will activate the sprinkler system should the solenoid fail to operate.

I’ve always seen large data centers protected by both - a clean agent and pre-action system. Some small data rooms they will allow just the clean agent and take out the sprinkler piping, but those are mostly small rooms that would only have 4 or less sprinkler heads in there anyway. I think anything larger than that, it’s frowned upon not having some type of water based fire protection in the space.

There are some jurisdictions that don’t allow pre-action systems and everything must be wet pipe. They really don’t care about your precious data and just want water on the fire with no delay!

I didn’t see any other visible forms of fire suppression besides those sprinkler heads. I also noticed many screens around the room displaying heat intensity and a scale until it reaches fire alarm. I forgot to take a picture and I didn’t think much of it. The rest of the system was the same, Wheelock Speaker Strobes and Simplex Tbars no agent release alarms. I guess it would make for sense if it would be a last resort kind of thing but this I would think wouldn’t be enough to stop a fire or severe damage

I don’t think its really all that uncommon. I’ve seen plenty of jobs come through my place of work that had only a pre-action system and no clean agent.

I’m wondering how you were able to take that picture in there without getting yelled at!

Clean agent systems are typically a one shot thing then it could be out of commission for days while the tanks are refilled. Pre-action systems make excellent backups, it’s better to lose a rack than an entire building. Probably required by insurance in most cases. Only one head will go off at a time, and that’s when it get’s hot enough so there’s a really good chance there’s burning electronics under it.

We used to put in EPO’s that would shut down equipment when FA heat’s went off and the pre-action was fired (before the sprinkler heads popped though), so the equipment was at least shut down before it was soaked. Problem with that was, critical servers could accidentally get shut down during FA testing if the inspectors didn’t know about them, so I don’t see it much anymore.

Also, many modern data centers have clean agent pipped directly into each individual rack or rack system.

There have been a couple of sites where I make the customer disable their own EPO’s, solenoids, horns, etc. I figure the liability is on them if something goes wrong. Especially when you get the ones that tell you “we will lose a million dollars a minute if this equipment goes down”.

Or “Our entire north american and european operations will be at a standstill if these servers go down”.

it’s amazing none of these places have backup data centers for business continuity.

What is that in the picture?

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