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Fire suppression kills Glasgow City Council's IT

Email is still down, three days after a fire system blew in Glasgow City Council’s data center

Glasgow City Council is still struggling to restore IT services after a catastrophic fault on Tuesday, in which IT equipment was damaged by a fire suppression system, apparently after the failure of an air-conditioning unit.

The council denies reports that its business has “ground to a halt”, and is reported to be considering legal action against its IT partners, after a “powerful blast” of gas hit IT equipment including storage systems. Officials have said that staff will still be paid and services will run, although the council confirmed to DatacenterDynamics, that its email system is down. 

citypark glasgow 1

CityPark Glasgow 

Source: CityPark

Fire suppression triggered  

“The catastrophic failure of an air conditioning unit has damaged some of our IT equipment,” said a council spokesperson quoted in the Glasgow Evening Times on Wednesday, “Our email system is down but vital services, particularly those for vulnerable people, are being delivered manually.”

The failure happened at the council’s data center in a ground floor unit of the CityPark business center near the main A8 road. The data center  is run by Access LLP, an “arms-length” joint venture set up by the Council and services company Serco. Phone calls to Access about the problem are being routed straight to the council’s switchboard. 

glasgow city council chambers thinkstock photos stephen finn

Glasgow City Chambers

Source: Thinkstock / Stephen Finn

Full details have not been released, but a Glasgow City Council spokesman told DatacenterDynamics that an air conditioning unit failed, releasing “some kind of gas”. This gas appears to have set off a fire suppression unit, perhaps by giving the false appearance of smoke in the facility, said the Council source. 

Some media reported that IT systems were ”sprayed by fire extinguishers”, but fire suppression units are typically designed to flood data halls with an inert gas to extinguish flames. Reports also mention a powerful blast of gas which ”shook the building”.

The Register reports that the problem caused a fault with an IBM storage array, which apparently holds the council’s tax and benefit systems, as well as its email service, based on Microsoft Outlook.

The issue also apparently caused problems on the Council’s switchboard, which relies on a Cisco network, and gave schools trouble in logging into their IT systems which are also hosted on servers at CityPark. 

The Council spokesman told us that a business continuity plan was in place, but not one which involved a hot standby system. All payments due to go out will be made, and staff are using manual systems where necessary. 


The exact cause won’t be known till a full report is made, but this sounds very much like a fault scenario reported in our artcile “Causes of Failure”, where the burst of fire suppression gas creates a shockwave whose vibration is extreme enough to kill hard drives in storage units. 

Failures like this can be avoided by design, but problems are often kept secret because the industry doesn’t share information about failures:  “Reliability is much worse than it need be, because we don’t share,” data center reliability expert Ed Ansett of i3 Consulting told DatacenterDynamics earlier this year. 

Long term, the council’s servers should be back up in time: “All our data was backed up and the business continuity plans in place meant those services were manually delivered,” the council told DatacenterDynamics. ” said. ”Our business continuity plans have proven to be effective.” 

Readers' comments (5)

  • Thank you ,
    very interesting article,
    I believe that the cause of the problem should be fully investigated and made public so we could learn from it and avoid it in the future, by putting a design in place that could eliminate such problems

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  • This is a known problem caused by the loud noise produced by inert gas release nozzles. Unmuffled nozzles could produce noise as loud as 130 decibels when the gas is released, and disk drives are disrupted above 120 decibels, and could be permanently damaged at 130.
    There is a youtube video that verifies this by someone shouting at an operating disk drive, and a research paper from NTT that gives more controlled test results.

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  • Once again...why was watermist not used???

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  • The industry has not kept this secret, fire engineers working in data centre protection have known about this for many years and it is even noted in NFPA 75. However data centre fire protection is often specified by people without a detailed knowledge of the risks and who make assumptions that suppression systems are necessary in the first place.

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  • As you are aware from this article there has been many data centre sites that have been drastically affected by the “suppression noise” from gas suppression systems being accidently discharged. If not please read the details on a recent blog and the catastrophic effects that have occurred across the globe.

    Senseco Systems are a leading suppression system installer and maintainer and we have arranged a brief seminar (2 hours in London) and if this subject is something you would like to know more about then read the above blog or the recently released white paper written by our manufacturing partner Siemens, along with a video footage and a recent case study by Senseco of how we very easily resolved the issue on a client’s site by retrofitting the Silent Nozzle.

    Our Event is being held on 11th May 2016 – It is strictly by invitation only due to a restriction on numbers.

    If you would like to find out more click below and email

    Many Thanks

    Steve Thomas

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