How Do Acoustics Impact Data Center Efficiency?

October 9, 2019

Contributed Commentary by Derek Sandahl

October 9, 2019 | As the need for data centers and mission critical facilities continues to grow internationally, owners and managers are seeking intelligent solutions to address the unique risks of these environments. In any risk prevention plan, it is a priority to address risks related to access control and data security, however there are other hazards just as important but less obvious to consider: notably the risk of acoustics.

Data Centers And Acoustics

Data center equipment and solutions have advanced rapidly, especially around improving storage capacity and data efficiency. To keep pace with these developments, healthcare facilities are one of the many industries recognizing the benefits for advanced data storage and security, particularly for patient data. Such data is primarily stored within hard disk drives (HDDs), equipment that can successfully hold large amounts of data but can also be sensitive to vibrations from acoustic sound output. This output can emerge in the form of supersonic discharge from activated fire suppression systems, creating vibrations within HDDs and severely impacting its performance and data integrity. Other building systems and environmental factors, such as construction materials, can also increase HDD exposure to acoustic vibrations, heightening the risk of system interruption and downtime.

The intensity of sound output is dependent on a range of factors, including discharge duration for fire suppression systems, peak agent flow rate and valve technology. Research has found that HDDs can withstand exposure to sounds up to 110 decibels before experiencing a 50% reduction in performance. Further testing found the sounds from fire suppression systems can reach up to 130 decibels, the same level of sound an airplane generates during takeoff and nearly loud enough to cause eardrum rupture. Without implementing acoustic suppression solutions, mission critical facilities can potentially lose massive amounts of sensitive data.

For mission critical facilities, this can be particularly detrimental when dealing with patient data, medical records and histories, and billing information. To protect these data, facilities should understand the level of acoustic noise generated by fire suppression systems. Measuring the source and path of acoustics can provide managers with insights to determine the potential impact it could have on data center technology and take the next steps needed to prevent any damage and protect previous data. To reduce risk of damage, system downtime, and loss of revenue, the key for facilities is implementing sound-suppressing acoustic nozzles.

The Solution: Acoustic Suppression Solutions

Acoustic nozzles and other sound suppression technologies help improve the absorption of noise and reduce soundwaves from fire suppression systems. These technologies lower sound power to ensure that the installation flow rate, discharge time, and required area coverage is specified to the appropriate levels of specific data centers. This also helps to keep acoustic levels at no more than 110 decibels to protect facility systems and data.

Along with protecting sensitive health-related data, acoustic suppression technologies reduce the overall cost structure of healthcare facilities and increase productivity with software monitoring technology. This technology works to pinpoint system issues and avoid system downtime, resulting in cost savings while enabling healthcare facilities to deliver superior, uninterrupted patient care. Routine updates are essential in data center upkeep and are often underestimated across a range of industries. For healthcare facilities, updated systems and acoustic nozzles assure consistent and reliable data protection and enhance the accessibility of patient files, ultimately ensuring equipment reliability.

Understanding the risks posed by data center acoustics and considering the implementation of acoustic-suppression solutions is invaluable for mission critical facilities, providing the substantial benefit of minimized damage to sensitive equipment. By protecting and preventing against acoustic risks, mission critical facilities are better-equipped to provide high quality care for patients, while operating an efficient, reliable and resilient environment.

Derek Sandahl is Global Product Manager, Engineered Fire Suppression Systems, at Johnson Controls. He has spent 15 years working in the fire protection industry for Johnson Controls. He has spent several years leading research and development in fire suppression technologies, with a recent focus in data center acoustic impacts.  He is the applicant on several patents related to improved fire suppression nozzle technologies. He is holder of BS degree from Lake Superior State University and MS degree from University of Wisconsin Green Bay. He can be reached at