Case Study: Server Farms

Problem: Server racks in modern data centers are powered by standard grid energy. Due to the importance of constant connectivity, many server racks have backup energy supplies in the form of high-energy lithium ion batteries to maintain power during local power outages. Data centers often contain hundreds, if not thousands, of server racks. Thousands of racks mean thousands of batteries. At those quantities, storage safety becomes a concern. Our client was considering a major switch of their battery transportation and storage container, going from a fiberboard box to a robust metal case in an effort to enhance safety. Before moving forward, they needed to convince fire code officials and insurers that specialized, overly confined storage rooms should no longer be mandated if using a fire-resistant, metal storage container. To make their case, they turned to HSC.


Solution: Unlike transportation, the storage of lithium ion batteries is not subject to prescriptive regulatory requirements. For example, if a client wants to ship Product X from Point A to Point B via Carrier Y, we can walk them through the US DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations to instruct them on the allowable package types, proper package marks/labels, and necessary paperwork. While these regulations are complex and often difficult to navigate, they provide prescriptive requirements to shippers of lithium batteries and other hazardous materials.


Currently, storage requirements for lithium batteries are dictated by the local fire code official – sometimes referred to as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – as well as the insurer of the property. Without a federal standard, the result is a patchwork scheme whereby different jurisdictions and insurers have wildly different safe storage requirements. In some markets, fire code officials are not yet fully aware of the dangers posed by lithium batteries. In other markets, particularly those in technology-forward regions (think Silicon Valley), fire code officials understand battery risks and are not afraid to impose strict battery storage requirements (e.g., automatic suppression, quantity limits, prohibitions against high pile storage, radiant energy detection, rated fire barriers, separate battery storage rooms, explosion analysis, etc.).


Working with our client and their packaging supplier, we conducted tests proving that a thermal runaway of a lithium ion battery was contained inside the metal case. There were no flames or fragments exiting the case and the case acted as a heat sink to prevent battery-to-battery propagation. Armed with test data and HSC’s fire safety report, the client was able to convince their insurer that separate storage rooms were no longer necessary when using the robust transportation and storage containers. The result: the metal cases enhanced transportation, storage, and employee safety. In addition, switching to the metal cases eliminated substantial constructions costs that would have been incurred to retrofit existing buildings with battery storage rooms.