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Heat Generation in UPS and Server Components – Protection Against Fire

Published by Lee Kelly on 22 January 2020

From the air conditioning units to the uninterrupted power supply and the IT equipment, everything in your server room or data centre is generating heat. It is essential that you have proper safety systems in place to prevent a fire or to deal with one should it occur inside your data room, or elsewhere in the building. If you fail to do so, a fire could result in loss of data that you cannot recover, and even worse, a risk to human life.

Causes of server room fires include the following:

  • Electrical failure of IT equipment
  • Electrical components that short circuit or become overloaded
  • Issues with wiring in the subfloor
  • Cooling system failure where no backup AC system is in place
  • Fires that quickly spread to server rooms from other parts of the building due to the wall and ceiling cable penetrations

Here’s what you need to know about heat generation in server rooms, including the heat from a UPS and server components, and what you need to do to protect yourself, your business, and your employees.

What You Can Do to Protect Against Fire

Your server room should be designed so that servers are placed at a safe distance from one another. Whether your servers are floor towers or rack cabinet mounted, you will need adequate airflow around them. You also need to allow air to circulate inside server racks where a build-up of heat can occur; these are called hot spots. Install temperature monitoring within racks to keep a close check on what’s going on in concealed areas.

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Maintaining Your Server Room

  • Keep your server room clutter-free and do not use it as a storage space.
  • Get rid of dust from machines with a special air gun.
  • Cabling must be neat and tidy so it is not a trip hazard.
  • Regularly check cables, wires, and power leads for damage.
  • Electrics and power points should be tested and certified.
  • Consider a fire risk assessment from an external consultant.

Check the Internal Power Supply

If the power supply fails, overheats, or catches fire, the entire server could surge and short out, and damage all your components. This often results in lost data that cannot be recovered. Use diagnostic software to regularly check the internal power supply that is powering your server.

The Temperature of Your Server Room

The temperature of your server room or data centre needs to be no lower than 10ºC (50ºF) and no higher than 28ºC (82ºF). In addition, humidity levels should be between 40 per cent and 60 per cent RH. If air is too dry, static electricity is created, which increases the risk of fire. If it’s too humid, equipment will suffer from corrosion damage, and it will eventually fail. The right air conditioning or cooling systems are crucial.

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How to Calculate Your Data Centre’s Heat Output

You can estimate heat output in order to size an adequate air conditioning system. You can do this by adding up the heat outputs of the different components, including the IT equipment, the UPS, power distribution, air conditioning units, lighting, and any people working in there.

Heat Generation in UPS and Server Components

The total output of heat from the IT equipment, in Watts, is the sum of the power inputs of all the IT equipment.

To find the heat output from a UPS with battery, first, multiply the total IT load power of your data centre by 0.02. The total IT Load power is the sum of the power inputs of all the IT equipment. Then, in a separate calculation, multiply the power system rating of the UPS in Watts by 0.04. Add these two figures together. The answer you have will be the heat output of the UPS with battery in Watts.

Controlling the Risk of Fire

When appropriate cooling measures are in place, temperature and humidity monitors will alert you if anything is amiss. That way, you can take steps to remedy the situation before any damage is done.

In addition, install fire detectors and fire suppression systems. Keep a portable fire extinguisher near the server room, make sure it is regularly tested and maintained by a fire protection professional, and ensure that someone is trained in how to use it.

Fire Suppression Systems

To protect your premises at the building level, you’ll need fire sprinklers and handheld fire extinguishers. However, water can cause significant damage in a server room, and this where fire suppression systems come into play. A fire suppression system automatically extinguishes fire without the need for human intervention. Since a fire needs heat, oxygen, and fuel, a fire suppression system is designed to remove one or more of these elements.

There are two ways to suppress a fire in a server room or data centre.

Inert Gas Fire Suppression Systems

This method uses a mix of argon, nitrogen, and sometimes a small amount of CO2 to reduce the oxygen in the server room to below 15 per cent. As a result, the fire is suppressed. As long as oxygen levels are above 12 per cent, human life is not in danger.

Chemical and Synthetic Gas Fire Suppression Systems

These systems generally use less gas and do not significantly reduce oxygen levels; however, high doses can be toxic so correct designs are essential. The way they work is that chemical or synthetic gas reduces or absorbs the heat, thereby cooling the room and suppressing the fire. The agents are very similar to refrigerants.

Your server room or data centre will get hot, and the sooner you take steps to protect it from fire, the better. When considering the heat generated by your UPS, the system’s specification will often give you two figures. One figure is for when no load is being demanded, and the other is for when the UPS is running at full load. To boost their efficiency, many UPSs have an ECO option, which means the UPS is operating in an ‘off-line’ mode.

If you’ve got any questions or you’d like to know more about heat generation and protecting your server room from fire, get in touch with us.