Data processing centres (DPCs) are under constant threat, not only from computer attacks but also from meteorological phenomena such as electrical storms. These are essential infrastructures that require protection against lightning and surges to avoid possible data loss and degradation of electrical and electronic equipment, as well as to prevent downtime, outages and service interruptions that imply a high economic impact.
Critical structures are facilities or systems that are necessary to ensure economic or social functioning. While there are different classifications of data centres, ranging from server rooms to high security level centres, in general it could be said that data centres are the nodes for processing critical information for both businesses and individuals.
The dangers associated with lightning strikes are a source of concern for the data centre industry. Lightning strikes can cause fires, destroy structural elements or knock out critical systems such as cooling, power and security, even shutting down an entire server farm. Even more seriously, they can cause work-related accidents.
Lightning strikes may seem an isolated and unlikely phenomenon, however, they have caused serious service disruptions for companies such as Amazon (2009), Navisite (2010), Google y Fujitsu (2015), AT&T and Microsoft (2018). The consequences were long-term service outages, fires, destruction of expensive equipment and loss of customer data. In contrast, adequate lightning protection allowed Fibernet in 2011 to avoid any inconvenience to its customers, as they suffered only minimal hardware damage and minor power failures.
Although data centre security is much better than it was a few years ago, according to the Uptime Institute’s 2021 report, four out of ten data centre outage incidents result in losses of between $100,000 and $1 million. And one in six would cost more than $1 million. In addition, the severity of outages has not reduced from 2019 to 2021.
Data collected by the Uptime institute indicates that the number of serious outages is likely to be between 20 and 50 per year anywhere in the world, causing business and customer disruption. This is compounded by the loss of reputation that these outages entail. Outage frequency and duration figures suggest that the actual performance of today’s datacentres would be below their service agreements.
The cost of outages is increasing due to several factors such as the growing dependence on IT in business but also in society; the increasing size of data centres; and the difficulty of resolving complex outages quickly.
Customers and data centre regulators both require increased oversight and guarantees of good practice. Preventing power outages is a constant challenge for data centres, requiring attention, financial investment and analysis. Lightning protection is crucial and represents a relatively small cost compared to the amount of damage and failure that a single lightning strike could cause to staff, servers and buildings. Like backups and redundancy, lightning protection systems and coordinated surge protection are essential for cybersecurity and service continuity.
In this article we will review some aspects of the DPC regulations that apply to lightning protection and how Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A.’s advanced solutions adapt to the needs of the industry.
TIA 942 and BICSI 002 (United States): Lightning protection for data centres
The Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI 0021) standard for the design and implementation of best practice in data centres categorises centres according to their availability in classes F0-F4, where F0 is the lowest level and F4 is the highest level of safety.
The different classes imply a few lightning strike safety requirements. For example, the need for a lightning protection system is determined in all classes according to the risk analysis performed with the NFPA 7802 standard, which includes a risk calculation like IEC 62305-2 for a more in-depth analysis. On the other hand, preventive protection by means of a storm detection system is optional for classes F0-F3, while it is recommended for F3 and F4 which are in areas with a high incidence of thunderstorms.
On the other hand, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), classifies data centres in its TIA 9424 standard into four levels. Level 1 refers to the basic infrastructure, without redundancy, which offers limited protection against physical events. Level 4 refers to the highest level of security and protection against almost all physical incidents.
TIA 942 indicates that lightning protection systems are required for levels 3 and 4, while levels 1 and 2 are subject to risk analysis according to NFPA 780.
In addition to BICSI 002 and TIA 942, other data centre standards include SS 507 of the Singapore Standards Council, SSAE 16 of the AICPA and the European EN 50600.
In any case, it is worth considering that it may be necessary to go beyond the requirements mentioned in the standards in order to achieve the maximum level of protection for data centres.
In the following, we will present the advanced solutions of Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. to protect sensitive structures such as data centres from the effects of electrical storms.
Preventive protection in DPC
Local detection of thunderstorms prevents accidents caused by lightning, which could lead to workplace accidents. The warning systems for the prevention of risks derived from thunderstorms, in addition to preventing occupational hazards, allow procedures to be adopted to disconnect systems from the mains supply, activating generators instead.
The ATSTORM® local storm detection system is the most complete on the market, with double sensor technology (electrostatic field and electromagnetic field). The experts of Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. operate ATSTORM® remotely. In the centralised calculation system, the signal is processed, the operation is monitored, and alerts are sent to the users.
External protection in data centre infrastructures
In addition to preventive protection, other personnel protection measures include the correct insulation of the earthing systems and conductors of the lightning rod down conductors, to avoid the generation of sparks between the metallic parts of the structure.
In the event of a lightning strike on the datacentre infrastructure, the lightning current would flow to earth through the various conductive parts such as concrete reinforcement and other metallic structures. The likelihood of lightning current penetrating the building is considerably reduced by a suitable external lightning protection system5, which can be composed of lightning protection spikes and lightning protection meshes, or lightning arresters with arresting devices (PDC).
DPCs are usually protected with conventional spike and mesh protection to create a Faraday cage that surrounds the buildings with a continuous, perfectly conductive and grounded screen, and with equipotential bonding of the power lines that enter the structure. This prevents the penetration of the lightning current and its electromagnetic field into the buildings, avoiding thermal and electrodynamic effects6. At Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. we have extensive experience in carrying out lightning protection projects using conventional lightning protection with spikes and meshes, although this Faraday cage effect can be very complicated if the lightning protection project is carried out once the building has already been constructed.
Lightning arresters with arresting devices are characterised by the fact that they protect a larger radius than conventional lightning protection. As explained on the website of the International Lightning Protection Association, data centre buildings can be spread over large areas. In this respect, PDCs are effective in protecting large areas with just a few terminals and make it possible to cover buildings and other sensitive areas of the data centre such as power generators and cooling systems. In addition, in the case of existing buildings, installation in accordance with their regulations is more feasible than protection with meshes.
For the protection of critical infrastructures such as data centres, Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. has developed the complete SMART DAT CONTROLER® SUPERVISOR system, which belongs to the Smart Earthing and Lightning Solutions range. SMART DAT CONTROLER® SUPERVISOR not only includes lightning rod with priming device DAT CONTROLER® REMOTE lightning conductor arrester with daily self-check of the arrester head, but also monitors the continuity of the down conductor and the earth resistance, and provides information on the strike intercepted.
Internal protection: data security and continuity of service
Any failure to protect vital equipment such as control electronics, cooling systems, generators and transformers could result in the loss of valuable customer data. The aim of internal lightning protection is to prevent lightning current from entering power and telecommunication lines, thus reducing permanent failures of electrical and electronic systems.
However, it is not only the loss of critical information that must be a concern, but also the continuity of the data centre service, ensuring that the power supply is always maintained to avoid downtime and service failure. Data centres require high electrical power for their various systems (computer room, cooling, etc.). Therefore, data centres may be designed to be connected to several distribution stations, power generators and UPS (uninterruptible power supplies). In all cases, it is also necessary to protect the lines of this alternative power supply so that the datacentre remains in service even if it is struck by lightning.
The internal lightning protection measures recognized in the IEC 62305-47 standard are equipotential bonding, surge protection devices (SPD) and spark gaps7. At Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. we have the appropriate material to achieve the equipotential connection of data centres, surge protection devices and spark gaps.
Furthermore, to make the connections between conductors, especially at the earthing point, it is recommended to use aluminothermic welding, also known as exothermic welding, because the molecular joints guarantee efficiency and durability. APLIWELD® Secure + is the most efficient and safest aluminothermic solder on the market, with the innovative tablet format, electronic initiators and remote ignition.
In most CPDs, having surge protection devices is as important or even more important than external lightning protection systems. Transient surges enter valuable electrical and electronic equipment in data centres through electrical, telephone and television supply lines. Even though data communication is carried out mainly over fibre optic cable, eliminating the risk of damage from surges, there are still vulnerable connections to them that require protection.
Surge Protection Devices (SPDs) instantly activate on transient surge spikes, driving the lightning current to ground. In this way, they protect equipment, maintain continuity of service and reduce the probability of security incidents involving people and property to an acceptable level.
The protectors against transient overvoltages of Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. They are tested in official and independent laboratories, passing all the tests with the values contained in the technical sheets and equipment labels.
From Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. We specifically recommend for CPD the series of protectors of type 1 ATSHIELD (protection of the effects of direct lightning strike) and the series of type 2 SPDs ATSUB and ATCOVER (protection of the secondary effects of lightning). Furthermore, ATSHOCK 25, which is approved by Iberdrola, can be used as a substitute for ATSHIELD.
For the protection of non-fibre optic data lines, the ATLAN type 3 protector series has different variants to suit all needs: individual, rack, CAT6, POE.
In the event that data centres have photovoltaic panels on their rooftops, the ATPV series offers effective protection for them and the elements integrated into their installation.
Protection against lightning for CPDs is critical to preserve multiple aspects of them (personnel, infrastructure, electrical and electronic equipment, data processing and storage, continuity of service). Applications Tecnológica S.A., an expert in high quality protection against lightning, offers products and services to protect data centres. At this link you can contact our experts who will help you with the recommended technological solutions for protection against CPD lightning.
- ANSI/BICSI 002-2019 Data Center Design and Implementation Best Practices. (2019).
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA 780 Safety Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems. (2020).
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 62305-2 Protection against lightning – Part 2: Risk management. (2010).
- TIA Standard ANSI/TIA-942-2005. 148 (2005).
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 62305-3 Protection against lightning – Part 3: Physical damage to structures and life hazard. (2010).
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 62305-1 Protection against lightning – Part 1: General principles. (2010).
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 62305-4 Protection against lightning – Part 4: Electrical and electronic systems within structures. (2010).