A data center is a highly sensitive structure. In the more than 3,000 centers with more than 40 kW IT connection power in Germany, millions of websites and immensely large amounts of data are processed. However, a data center not only accommodates computing technology, i.e. computers, storage or network components, but also infrastructure such as power supply, cooling units or access protection. These are all sensitive and failure-prone structures. That is why data centers are also exposed to special risks: cyber attacks, vandalism, theft, destruction of servers or arson. But weather risks such as floods, earthquakes or heat waves are also risks that should not be underestimated. The most serious danger, however, comes primarily from electrical fires. According to statistics, six percent of data center infrastructure failures are related to fire. For example, the major fire in a Strasbourg data center in March 2021 is due to security deficiencies. The complete destruction caused by the fire alone wiped out over 3.6 million websites forever. These were primarily electrical fires, which in many cases could have been avoided with careful planning and regular maintenance.

A data center has a very high energy density. This includes not only the waste heat generated by the servers, but above all the electricity used for the data center hardware. A small cable fire or a defective circuit board can have devastating effects. Small fires that are not detected quickly enough can spread to a wildfire. Simply extinguishing this with water would be anything but practical, as this would result in further damage to the electronic components.

Another safety risk is diesel units with large tanks, which act like a fire accelerant. Emergency power generators with batteries can also amplify fires. A data center can be structured in such a way that the risk of fire is immensely reduced. “All components and systems in a data center must be planned and arranged sensibly. Then a fire extinguisher is enough to extinguish a fire quickly and safely,” says Martin Vogt, Head of Technology at High Knowledge. The Cologne consulting company has specialized in the planning and commissioning of sustainable and climate-neutral data centers. "Project planning and maintenance of data centers and the data center infrastructure must take fire protection into account from the outset," Vogt continues, adding: "Data center operators are on the safe side with a well thought-out fire protection concept that intelligently combines passive and active fire protection solutions."

Fire protection is divided into passive and active components

In addition to the planning and arrangement of the data center, this also requires a fire protection concept that is constantly kept up to date. This includes seamless and permanent maintenance of all components when the facility is in operation. Before that, however, it is important to implement all active and passive fire protection solutions in the planning. “It is important that all rooms in the data center are separated from one another. In particular, F90 fire protection walls and doors must be planned and installed for this purpose,” says Vogt. If cables are pulled through the individual rooms, it must be ensured that bulkheads and ducts are absolutely tight. This not only has to be taken into account during planning, but also always conscientiously checked later during operation. “The human factor is also very important,” warns Vogt. “For example, doors must not be held open by wedges. It must always be ensured that doors remain closed and that there is no draught, which could supply possible fires with the oxygen they need.” Special alarm systems report, for example, if a door in the data center is not closed in order to prevent the risk of drafts.

The active fire protection solutions also include a forward-looking cooling concept that can also switch off certain electrical systems in the event of a fire, such as the air circulation system. An extinguishing and fire alarm system will also be installed. However, these technical systems must be continuously monitored and maintained. "Constant monitoring significantly reduces the risk of fire," says Vogt.

Plan carefully and execute safely

The planning and installation of an effective fire protection system for data centers should only be undertaken by trained personnel. Because only those who are certified according to DIN 14675 in Germany may carry out such work. It is important that not only the pure IT room is included in the planning, but also all adjoining rooms. This also increases the number of fire alarms and the entire data center can be divided into three so-called surveillance zones:

  • Zone 1 includes the IT room itself, i.e. the server room, for monitoring purposes
  • Zone 2 covers all adjoining rooms of the server room
  • Zone 3 monitors the rooms below and above the IT room

In addition, all smoke detectors must be completely replaced after eight years at the latest to prevent them from becoming soiled by dust, for example, which means that they no longer function properly. "However, merely replacing the detectors represents a significant environmental burden if the old detectors are disposed of," Vogt points out the associated consequences. Instead, fire detectors should be completely cleaned in order to be able to use them again in the long term and without any problems.

The heart of efficient fire protection in a data center is the fire alarm control panel. This has to be set up intelligently – preferably centrally at the entrance to the building so that the fire brigade has a direct contact point in the event of a fire. This control center should also have a modular structure so that it can be constantly expanded and modernized. Because a data center can grow over the years due to the constant demand for higher data volumes, the fire alarm control panel must therefore record new systems and premises.

In the best possible case, however, the fire brigade does not even have to rush to action if, thanks to well thought-out fire protection solutions, smaller fires can be quickly detected and extinguished themselves. However, there must always be a trained employee on site who can make the right decisions independently. Nevertheless, a close exchange with the fire brigade is important. Among other things, the fire alarm system concept must be checked and approved by the fire brigade. "The bottom line, however, should always be that the data center can practically delete itself," emphasizes Harry Knopf, Managing Director of High Knowledge.

The right extinguishing agent

Planning and installation must therefore already include fire protection as a relevant part for a well thought-out concept. For this reason, High Knowledge's Blue DC planning methodology automatically includes effective fire protection. Here, for example, oxygen reduction systems are part of the repertoire, which react to the recognized danger as soon as a fire develops and withdraw the oxygen from the area where it originated, so that the fire is smothered. “These systems ensure that the oxygen content in the rooms is below 15 percent. That way, a fire can’t start in the first place,” says Knopf.

In addition, systems are set up that immediately detect and prevent electrical arcing faults. When choosing the extinguishing agent, there is no way around efficient extinguishing gases. “Primarily, Novec, FM 200 or nitrogen are used here. Here, too, it is always important to ensure that the rooms are absolutely airtight. This is the only way that the extinguishing agent can effectively smother the fire and prevent it from spreading further,” says Vogt. The gases used must be environmentally friendly and not harmful to health; Contamination with harmful substances after a fire has been extinguished is thus also prevented. After a fire, the premises can therefore be used immediately again in full and without restrictions.


Effective fire protection must be an integral part of data center operations. Due to the highly sensitive infrastructure, a cable fire can quickly ignite a fire that can spread to a dangerous wildfire. Since extinguishing a fire itself can cause damage, priority must be given to fire prevention and non-damage and non-contamination extinguishing methods. As early as the planning stage, all components of a data center must not only be arranged in an energy-efficient manner, but fire protection must also be conceptually thought through. All elements must be constantly maintained during further operation, so that a data center can ideally extinguish a fire by itself. External partner companies such as High Knowledge support data center operators with sustainable strategies to reliably prevent damage and failures of data centers caused by fire.