An Umbrella for Server Racks?

An example of a Turtle Shell covering to protect data center equipment from water damage.

Most data center managers would agree that when you have water dripping through the ceiling of your data center, you already have a huge problem. A company called Turtle Shell Industries is marketing a product to provide the last line of defense in this worrisome scenario.

The product consists of a lightweight polycarbonate shell placed over racks and cabinets to protect it from overhead leaks and debris, and comes with pull-down curtains that can be extended for additional protection for IT equipment. A motorized curtain is available for facilities that are monitored remotely, so they can be deployed without staff on site. The Turtle Shell FAQ says the unit can be customized, but doesn’t specifically address how fire suppression might be handled.

Many data center operators seek to manage risk of water damage by limiting the number of penetrations in roof membranes, or perhaps by seeking a dry climate during site selection. Most of the instances of water-related disruptions have been from floods rather than ceiling leaks. Examples include the 2007 outage at a T-Mobile data center near Seattle, the flooding in Istanbul last fall and the water main break in Dallas earlier this year. Here’s a video providing an overview of the product. This runs about 4 minutes, 30 seconds.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Looks like a nice heat trap as well. And the cabinet arrangement and gaps appear to ignore all the rules of air flow and heat transfer. Seems water might be the least of the concerns in this data center.

  2. Robert – That is an excellent point and thanks for the feedback. Heat transfer and airflow are major concerns and both variables are incorporated in to the design and positioning of the turtle shell® (distance from the top of the equipment to the lowest point of the shell). There is a direct correlation between the height of the shell to the amount of water protection it offers – imagine walking in the rain with an umbrella positioned 4’ over your head – it wouldn’t do much good. In areas where heat transfer and the risk of equipment overheating are a concern we design a custom shell and in coordination with facility engineers, equipment manufacturer representatives and turtle shell® engineers we measure, monitor and re-measure temperature and airflow to ensure the turtle shell® installation will not compromise the equipment it is protecting. If you would like more information feel free to call me at (212) 904-1117.

  3. Bill Hen

    I would think the management would look into air flow and heat transfer before they purchased and installed the equipment. These are big issues in any data center.

  4. Dan

    my first thought was 'well there goes the last line of defense against fire' (e.g. overhead sprinkler systems).

  5. Shyam

    I dont understand, why one should allow water to dip on server rack. The building should be water proofed. please give your reply

  6. Hi, we are the largest healthcare provider in Pakistan, having 84 acres purpose built campus. We want similar solution to protect our Data Center. Please contact me so that I can provide more data on this. thanks Rizwan Karim Facilities Engineer Aga Khan University, Karachi

  7. Shaun

    I do agree with the comment on this creating a heat trap, I would suggest doing CFD on some different designs to see how this affects the airflow and cooling/heat removal. Many Data Centre's have to live with the building design and hence sometimes unavoidably you have water pipes in the ceiling. in an ideal world these should be removed to prevent any risk from leakage, but many Data Centres are not ideal. So to live with water pipes this could be a good alternative solution, however other measures should include already be in place such as leak detection and drip trays/drainage etc. When you have to live with risk, any measure to mitigate the risk is a priority. Also many other Data Centres use water sprinklers so there is again a risk of leakage or unwanted discharge, so again this could be a good solution, however knowing how water sprinklers deluge the water, at first glance the positioning of the turtle would still allow a lot of water to get to the racks. If however I had water sprinklers, then surely I want the water to reach the racks ? As you can see there are many factors to consider when deploying a new product into the Data Centre. I like the idea, however this may only be a benefit under certian Data Centre designs and scenarios. For best practice the Data Centre should be designed to avoid these kinds of risk or upgraded so that these risks are removed completely.

  8. Has the Turtle Shell solution been accepted by any commercial data centers / co-location facilities as a solution? How has this solution fared with state fire codes and Fire Marshall inspections in buildings using water based fire suppression systems? I saw a comment about this but no response or detail about how this solution avoids becoming a solution one risk while elevating another (Fire).