Greening the data center: False economy …

Today, I’ve been reading about the new Intel experimental data center hereand here. The thing that really caught my eye is their method of fire protection.

Simply put, their answer to fire protection is to reduce oxygen level in the data center to 15%. At this level, fire won’t burn, eliminating the requirement for water or inert gas suppression systems and saving that money.

The first issue I have with this idea is how to seal a data center to maintain this kind of atmosphere. Leaks and even the normal ingress and egress of technicians would throw this for a loop, unless you added airlocks at all access points.

The second issue is the health and safety of the data center workers. 15% oxygen is right on the edge of causing immediate physical damage. OSHA lists the effects of lower than 19.5% oxygen as increased breathing rate, accelerated heartbeat, impaired thinking and coordination, dizziness, and nausea. Does this really sound like the way you’d like your data center workers to be functioning? In fact, 15% oxygen is right on the hairy edge of causing permanent physical injury or worse.

In 2008, OSHA soundly rejected an application from FirePASS Corp for a variance for just such a fire suppression system. Suggesting that anyone who experiences ill effects from the environment should just get out isn’t going to fly.

Finally, I have to question the economics of this. With the possible exception of oil filled transformers and very high voltage feeders and switchgear, there’s little to nothing in a modern data center that poses a significant combustion threat. So, effectively, they’re trading systems that have a higher up front cost and little to no operating cost for a system with lower up front cost, ongoing operating cost, and likely hazard to workers for microscopic gain at best. Doesn’t sound very green or very smart to me.

This needs to go wherever all the other boneheaded schemes go to die.

Vern, SwiftWater Telecom

data center, web hosting, Internet engineering


One response to “Greening the data center: False economy …

  1. I agree. Money should be spent on detection not suppression as the typical fire is slow smouldering and with the proper detection system the threat can be detected before it begins to produce smoke. An overheating still fully functioning power supply, which will burn out in a puff of smoke, can be detected and replaced before it puffs out.

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