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Introduction to Data Centers

Introduction to Data Centers

Data centers are comprised of multiple elements which provide safe, secure locations for data and equipment. The components used in a data center include power supplies, communication and storage equipment, fire suppression equipment, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and monitoring systems.

Power in a data center is a critical component that allows other components to function. Because power is so critical to the operation of the data center, many data centers will be equipped with redundant power supplies and backup systems which will provide uninterrupted power. This will protect the data center from a local failure of a power supply and allow continuous operation in the event of a commercial power outage. Due to the high cost of some redundant and backup power systems, they are typically deployed in data centers where down time would cause a significant financial loss.

The data storage and communication equipment within a data center provide the services that are the main purpose of the data center. Devices such as servers, routers, switches, hard drives, RAID controllers, etc. provide a means to store data and provide a path for users to access that data. In addition to the redundancy in the power system, many data centers offer redundant data communication and storage equipment. This redundancy provides multiple signal paths and reduces the odds of downtime due to a failure. Again, due to the high cost of some redundant storage and communication systems, they are typically deployed in data centers where down time would cause a significant financial loss.

A fire suppression system is a necessary and important part of a data center. The components required for the system include a detection system, an alarm, portable fire extinguishers, an emergency power-off switch, an emergency suppression delay or cancel, and a suppression agent. The detection system will identify changes in the data center environment that indicate a fire. It is important to properly tune the system to avoid false alarms. The alarm is the straightforward piece of the system; it should make an audible tone and flash to indicate the imminent release of the suppression agent. The importance of the alarm is that some suppression agents are harmful to humans and may result in injury or even death. The alarm should provide sufficient time for employee evacuation. Portable fire extinguishers are important to provide any employee within the data center a means to exit the data center in the instance where fire may be blocking their path. The emergency power-off switch is used to cut power to the entire data center in the event of a fire. The emergency suppression delay is important because it allows adequate time for employees to evacuate the area in the case that the suppression agent being used is harmful. This also allows employees to cancel a false alarm before the suppression agent is deployed.

There are two types of fire suppression agents typically used in data centers: water or gas. Water systems can either be wet pipe, or dry pipe (pre-action). Wet pipe systems are the typical water sprinklers that are installed in commercial buildings and are always charged with water. A dry pipe system works similarly to the wet pipe system with the exception that water is not present in the pipe until a fire has been detected. The advantage of the dry pipe system is that it is less likely to develop condensation than a wet pipe system. The condensation that may develop on a wet pipe system can drip onto and damage critical equipment within the data center.

In the event of a fire, both of these systems will release water to extinguish the fire. The disadvantage of both of these systems is that when the water is released there is a high probability that the equipment within the data center will be damaged and that damage may be irreparable. Gas suppression agents provide immediate fire suppression and cause minimal damage to the equipment within the data center. This system works by removing heat and oxygen from the environment. Since these systems remove oxygen from the environment, there is the inherent risk of injury or death for any employee that is in or near the data center when the agent is deployed. The disadvantages of a gas system are the higher cost versus a water system, space requirements for the gas canisters, and the potential threat to human life.

The equipment within a data center produces a large amount of heat during operation. Computer equipment does not operate efficiently and may be damaged by higher temperatures. The HVAC system in a data center ensures that the temperature is maintained at an optimal level. This allows the equipment in the data center to function efficiently.

Monitoring systems allow the IT personnel to supervise critical device and circuit level performance. This monitoring can be done on site at the data center, or sometimes off site through a web interface. This also allows the IT personnel to document statistics that can be used to support service level agreements.

This white paper is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. C2G makes no guarantees, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness or reliability of the information found in this document.