Q

What are the recommended standards for fire protection of data tapes?

SearchDataCenter's fire protection expert Lance Harry advises a member on the different methods available for putting out a fire in the data center, and suggests fire-proof walls or cabinets.

What are the recommended standards for fire protection of data tapes that need to be stored and readily available for the IT team?
 

Storage and content are one of the most challenging elements of high value asset fire protection. The reason is, it's subjective. While NFPA 75, Standard for the Protection of Electronic Computer / Data Processing Equipment, does contain some guidance, it is vague and does not specify a particular strategy. There are a variety of options to extinguish a class A (plastics, standard combustibles like computer tapes) fire, but the decision that has to be made is by the end user. What is the true value of the tapes, and the content they house. Are the tapes replaceable if they were completely lost? How much pain, downtime, or loss would be associated with not having the tapes? How much time would it take to rebuild the content on the tapes? These are the types of questions that should help you decide what to do.

Water based systems (pre-action or standard sprinkler system).
Understand the level of damage that would be associated with a water discharge above the tapes. Would it be acceptable for some percentage of tapes to be lost if you had a fire? (Regardless of how big the fire was, water and smoke would likely ruin some number of tapes.)

Clean agent (waterless) systems.
More costly, but would likely save your tapes from most damage associated with fire. Is the capital cost of this system worth it (to ensure you do not face the questions raised above)?

In most cases, the answer comes down to economics. If you understand the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the fire protection system vs. the total value of the content, it becomes clear.

Another strategy is in the way the actual tapes or media is stored. Many times an owner will elect to use a fire-rated room or enclosure to house the tapes. This could be done with either fire-rated walls, (one or two hour is typical,) or fire-rated cabinets. A fire-rated wall would typically only be useful during construction, or if the room is being partitioned separately from the original space. Cabinets can be purchased from any number of vendors depending on size and rating required.

This was first published in May 2006

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