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December 18, 2009
Vol.31 Issue 30|
Page(s) 26 in print issue
Affordable Fire Suppression
FireXonline Offers Effective Solutions For Room-Wide & Rack-By-Rack Protection
Data center managers usually have two options from which to choose when selecting a fire protection solution: water sprinkler systems or pre-engineered chemical-based suppression agents. When a fire or smoldering smoke is detected, a water sprinkler system can certainly be effective; however, the servers and data are often destroyed in the process, and in some cases, water damage can do more harm than a small fire would. Then there are pre-engineered suppression systems, which can be highly effective for extinguishing fire-hazard sources with often little damage to equipment, yet are often costly to install. However, fire suppression solution provider FireXonline says its solutions are superior to water sprinkler systems and are available for a significantly lower cost than pre-engineered fire suppression alternatives.
“FireXonline has come to understand that our inquiries increasingly come from small to medium-sized data centers whose operators find it prohibitively expensive to install clean-agent or pre-engineered suppression systems,” says Gerry Flood, vice president of FireXonline (www.firexonline.com).
The SME Data Center Niche
FireXonline approaches data center needs by tailoring its products and fire protection installation services to what it says are new data center dynamics. Previously, for example, Flood says computer rooms were larger and relied on hazardous Halon 1301, which required evacuation by personnel when deployed due to the toxicity of the chemical agent. Now, however, data center equipment and server racks are more condensed and EPA-approved extinguishing agents are required that are not hazardous for personnel when discharged, Flood says.
Effective fire-extinguishing chemical agents that meet EPA and other standards, which Flood says FireXonline offers, must be able to terminate fire sources in small and dense server racks with nontoxic chemical agents. “When uninterrupted operation of sophisticated, expensive, and complex equipment is required for a corporation or government agency to maintain operations, then new and more effective types of fire protection [are] required,” Flood says.
FireXonline originally offered its consultancy services and products to the specialty fire protection needs for historical buildings, atomic waste disposal sites, storage warehouses, and other applications around the world. However, the firm has more recently begun to offer EPA-friendly fire protection agents and its services to meet the needs of increasingly dense server racks for small to medium-sized enterprises. It has since offered its products and services to data centers around the United States and in Africa.
Although FireXonline researches and determines how its specialty fire protection services can best meet data center needs, the firm has also partnered with third parties that offer specific specialty products, which FireXonline in turn offers to its customers.
“I have always looked for niches that allow me to market products when there are specific benefits for the customers. I have always tried to find ideal products to meet niche needs [through partnerships with third parties],” Flood says. “When it comes to server rooms, obviously that business is growing and will continue to grow, and I have found products that are critical for specific fire suppression operations.”
One of FireXonline’s partnerships is its alliance with UK-based Redetec (www.redetec.co.uk). FireXonline selected Redetec’s rackmount fire suppression product in order to offer customers the ability to better pinpoint fire hazards that need to be extinguished on a rack level. Instead of dousing the entire data center with a chemical agent, Redetec’s product puts out fires inside the service rack. “[Redetec’s solution] locates the [fire] inside the rack at the point likely to be the problem and is capable of suppression long before a typical room system even knows that there is a fire and can react,” Flood says. “Fire suppression inside the cabinet is a first line of defense, instead of waiting for the system installed in the room to go off, after much of the damage is done.”
FireXonline is also introducing OnGard suppression units for server racks, electrical cabinets, and other applications. “The OnGard unit uses linear heat-detection tubing that ruptures at the point where the flame [is located] and discharges the agent directly onto the fire,” Flood says.
OnGard is a niche-oriented product that offers pinpointed fire detection and suppression capabilities inside server racks, and the product also meets the needs of data centers “where tight budget restrictions are in place,” Flood says.
Mini Data Centers
Servers and data centers in general are quickly becoming denser, as more computing power and smaller components are packed in increasingly smaller blade server cabinets, which Flood says is a core market for his firm. But in addition to this trend is what Flood says is an emerging modular approach that data center managers are taking when designing computer rooms. Many firms, for example, are increasingly using shipping containers and other small compartments to serve as small computer rooms or “mini data centers,” Flood says.
For this niche need, Flood says FireXonline has begun to offer clean agent units otherwise designed for marine applications in ship engine rooms. These fire suppression units were originally designed for engine room enclosures up to 1,500 cubic feet and were designed to suppress Class B and C hazards, which Flood says also makes them a perfect fit for smaller server rooms. “These units, while not as sophisticated as pre-engineered systems, protect server rooms for 33 to 50% of the cost [of pre-engineered systems],” Flood says. “Because they are approved by Underwriters Laboratories, they can be used for any other structure—including, of course, small server rooms.”
The main selling point is the price, Flood says. “There are two options for these small computer rooms: [An SME] can spend $12,000 to $15,000 on pre-engineered pipe systems that everyone thinks is the way you protect the server room, but we can put a unit on the wall that essentially does the same thing, saves you up to 60% of the cost, and allows you to put protection in there that you might not otherwise be able to afford.”
FireXonline has ambitions to become a leader in protecting small server rooms, Flood says. “Our cost-effective solutions will allow a better degree of protection for budget-constrained organizations and limit critical downtime due to fires,” Flood says.
by Bruce Gain
Company Information |
Company Name: FireXonline
Location: Clawson, Mich.
Date Company Founded: 2004
FireXonline installed 300 fire extinguishers in the London subway system.