Server Room Fire Prevention: A How-To Guide

Fire is perhaps the worst thing that can strike your server room. Here's seven ways to make sure your server room doesn't become a fire hazard.

No matter what modern slang might tell you, the last thing you want is for the server to ‘be lit’. Servers can and do catch on fire, frying everything from floor to ceiling.

Because the power used by a server room is significant, the chances of electrical fire are even greater than with ordinary devices. And while hardware failure or ransomware attack may be a more common cause of data loss, fire leaves the least chance for salvage.

It also involves the most collateral damage. A ransomware attack won’t endanger other people’s lives – at least normally – but a fire certainly will. So if you’re in charge of a server room, it’s a no-brainer to study up on server fire prevention.

Here’s seven things to do to make your server room safer and, by extension, your whole workplace.

1. Keep your server room clutter-free

It’s a sad fact of the workplace, but server rooms can often become unofficial storage rooms. The more combustible the materials in there, the more likely a fire will ignite and spread quickly. Not only that, it can be a tripping and navigation hazard.

Make sure it’s kept clean and completely clutter-free by regularly tidying it up. Don’t underestimate the risk of something like a box of documents left next to one of your machines!

2. Clear the Dust

Make sure the inside of the server is clear of dust. Accumulation of dust can cause the server to shut down, just like any other device. You can get a special air gun that is suitable for machine cleaning.

Make sure nobody has obstructed the server vents. E.g. sticking pieces of paper to the side with notes.

3. Check the cables and power leads

You should periodically check your wires and power leads to make sure they’re not frayed or damaged. Make sure your cables are arranged so they’re not a trip hazard like these.

You should also get the electrics and power point tested and certified.

4. Check the server power supplies

Your server is powered by an internal power supply, which controls all of your equipment. This power supply can fail, overheat, or catch fire. While it is more likely to simply shut down than spark and catch fire, it’s still something that can happen.

To avoid this happening, you need to regularly test your power supply.  While some servers now come with beeping mechanisms that alert you of something being wrong with the power supply, testing is the best way to detect a power supply on the verge of failure.

5. Keep Your Server Room Cool

You want to keep your server room temperature no lower than 10°C (50°F) and no higher than 28°C (82°F). Another way to think of it is ‘keeping the room cool, but not cool enough to cause condensation.’

On that note, humidity levels are very important. You want to keep that between 40% and 60% rH.

Why? Well, air becomes dry when there’s not much humidity. That causes static electricity in systems, and increases the risk of fire – which is what this whole article is about avoiding! Meanwhile, if your humidity levels are too high, that’s going to cause corrosion damage to your equipment and permanent failure.

This is why a temperature and humidity monitor is a good idea. While your air con may be working fine most of the time, things can and do go wrong: seasonal changes, people turning the air conditioning off and not turning it back on, people leaving doors open, etc.

By having a warning system, you’ll be the first to know if something is amiss.

6. Fire detection and prevention

On the subject of alerts and warning systems, fire detection and suppression systems are a must. And before you start worrying about cost, just think how much it would cost if you lost not just your data and all your server hardware, but the whole room (and maybe the building) to fire.

Water-based suppression systems can be problematic with a server. Some companies use a clean agent surpression system to avoid water damage, but this can sometimes be outside of the range of an SMB budget.

You should also have a portable extinguisher available near the sever room and have someone trained in its use. Make sure it is regularly tested and maintained by a fire protection professional.

7. Virtualize Your Servers

By virtualizing your servers, you’re reducing the number of physical machines in your server room. This in turn means you’re reducing the heat and power. Less heat and power, less fire risk. We’ve written a series of articles on how to perform a physical to virtual (P2V) server transition.

Make sure your server data is backed up!

Even should the worst happen and your whole server room goes up in smoke, you’ll still be able to recover if you’ve backed it up. Make sure you use dedicated server backup software to protect your systems and data such as BackupAssist.

You should also make sure your server is in-date. Read our article on how to tell if it’s time to replace your server or not. You should also have an outage plan in place for any sort of server interruption so you can hit the ground running.

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