The importance of grounding in the data centre
A grounding connects the plug (a socket or any element through which a certain electrical charge circulates) with the ground so that in case of a current leakage, all the current flows to a safe place where it will not harm people or material.
The installation of a grounding system in data centres is essential to guarantee the safety of the equipment and especially of the workers when they handle the equipment or wiring. A sufficiently large current leakage could cause physical damage and thousands of euros in material damage due to degradation or even destruction.
Beyond current leakage, the danger posed by weather must also be taken into account. In the unlikely but possible case of a lightning strike, it would be much more powerful than any current leakage and could even flank poorly prepared countermeasures. There have been more than a few cases of lightning strikes in data centres that have subsequently led to fires and long outages: in 2018 lightning struck Microsoft's data processing centre affecting numerous devices, fortunately no data was lost.
It may seem unlikely that a similar incident could occur, but it is worth noting that if it happens, the damage would be very high so it would be in companies' best interest to properly equip their data centres for a similar occasion. The cost of protecting one of these centres against this type of phenomena is ridiculously low compared to the price of all the repairs and loss of customers. In the same way that cybersecurity serves to ensure the correct functioning of the software of the facilities at all times, protection against electrical overloads guarantees continuity of service despite inclement weather.
In terms of legal regulations, there are different standards for the design and implementation of best practices in terms of data centres, being one of the most influential the BICSI 002 developed by Industry Consulting Service International. This standard is capable of categorizing the different data centres according to their availability in classes from F0-F4, with F0 being the lowest level and F4 the highest. These classes imply a series of security requirements for the different meteorological phenomena that may occur. For example, the need for a lightning protection system is determined in all classes according to the risk analysis performed through the NFPA 780 standard, which offers a risk calculation similar to the one that can be found in IEC 62305-2 for a more in-depth analysis. In contrast, preventive protection through a storm detection system is optional for classes F0-F3, while it is recommended for F3 and F4 that are located in areas with a high incidence of thunderstorms.
There are also very important organizations in the sector such as the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which classifies data centres in its TIA 942 standard also in four levels. Level 1 refers to the basic infrastructure without redundancy, which offers limited protection against physical events of the calibre mentioned above. Level 4, on the other hand, refers to the highest level of security and protection against almost all natural contingencies that may occur. The TIA 942 standard 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 any case, it is worth considering that it may be necessary to go beyond the requirements mentioned in the standards to achieve the maximum level of protection for data centres as appropriate in each case.
We will keep in mind the importance of protection against current leakage when preparing the project to be carried out in the "Network Management and Planning" course, studying the inclusion of the described grounding points and we will keep you informed of our progress in subsequent posts. Thank you very much for your time spent reading our article!
Arturo Moseguí and Enric Sasselli