Data Centers and Leak Detection System

Data centers around the world are equipped with different levels of redundancy and highly sophisticated systems. However, the concerns of downtime due to any reason remain. Undetected leaks are one of the big causes when it comes to downtime in data centers.

These leaks can spread unseen in inconspicuous and inaccessible spaces in the data center, causing a lot of damage before they’re ever discovered. Moreover, it’s not just a water leak that data centers have to worry about.

Other usual suspects include the fuel from the backup generator, the coolant from the liquid cooling or air condition systems, or any other toxic liquid that can be harmful to the health of the data center and humans.

Furthermore, there’s also the risk of storms and untimely weather interruptions leading to external leaks in the data center.

Why Data Centers Can’t Afford Downtime Due to Leaks

While downtime is bad news for numerous industries and sectors, even a short downtime period can be disastrous and extremely expensive for data centers. It can even damage the reputation and be very difficult to recover from, as seen in recent incidents.

The profuse need for data centers to avoid downtime arises from the high cost of downtime. The 2013 report from Ponemon Institute focused on the cost of unplanned data center outages by analyzing independent data centers that suffered from a partial or complete unplanned outage.

The report highlighted that the cost of data center outages is on the rise, with the minimum cost of $74,223 to a maximum cost of $1,734,433 reported by the studied data centers. Apart from the obvious costs such as containment and recovery cost, there was also the issue of equipment cost and the loss of productivity.

Moreover, data centers also have to contend with the loss of productivity, loss of revenue, and the consequences of business disruption such as reputational damage, lost business opportunities, and customer churn.

The mean total cost per minute of an unplanned data center outage is $7,908, while the maximum cost could go up to $16,246 per minute of downtime. However, these statistics are from a 2013 report, but the latest report confirms that the situation has worsened despite increased dependency on data centers.

According to a recent report from the Ponemon Institute, data centers are experiencing 2.4 facility shutdowns annually with an additional ten isolated downtime events. The report highlights that not only are data center outages occurring too often, but the average duration of the outage has also increased to 138 minutes from 119 minutes in 2013.

The outage problem is persistent in both core and edge data centers. These results are unacceptable considering the advances in infrastructure architectures and technologies that have occurred in the last decade.

You might be asking why outages are still occurring in data centers. Reports say that only 46% of core data centers and 62% of edge locations utilize best practices for design and redundancy.

Deploying redundant infrastructure at data centers is crucial, but so is implementing data center monitoring and management systems. The significance of monitoring is increased in edge data centers as many of those are not manned. This is where leak detection systems come in.

Why Data Centers Need Leak Detection Systems

Data centers are required to provide continuous uptime for mission-critical operations in almost every aspect of commerce, business, and communications. The fact that unplanned outages occur despite multiple levels of redundancy and safeguards is a cause of concern.

According to a report, 21% of unplanned outages occur due to failures caused by water, heat, CRAC, and weather. Furthermore, the growth in computing power density and data center sizes has increased reliance on liquid-cooled CRAC. This has further increased the risk of liquid leaks in data centers.

The good news is that with proper leak detection systems, these leaks can be identified easily before leading to outages and serious damage. Moreover, leak detection systems offered by PermAlert are not just for water leak detections as their technology can also detect chemical and fuel leaks.

Data centers require water leak detection systems and chemical and fuel leak detection systems, and PermAlert can offer all this with one leak detection system installation.

Typical Leak Detection Systems

Leak detection systems have been used in a variety of buildings besides data centers. Following is a list of facilities and infrastructures that require leak detection systems:

  • HVAC Equipment
  • Chiller plant room
  • Executive offices/board rooms
  • Fire sprinkler systems
  • Water supply and return piping
  • IT facility server/network/equipment facilities
  • Services core and riser
  • Toilets and restrooms
  • Kitchens and lunchrooms
  • Condensate drains
  • Document archives
  • LV/HV switch room
  • Plant room
  • Generator room/diesel tanks
  • Communications equipment

In most scenarios, leak detection systems are close to possible sources such as HVAC equipment or water supplies. However, leak detection sensors may also be installed in critical parts of the building.

As data centers cover a lot of floor space, operate continuously, and are staffed minimally, timely location of leaks is crucial. This is made possible with the use of leak detection sensors that will be discussed below.

Probe or Point Sensor Systems

Leak sensors come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the simplest type includes the point or probe sensors. Probe sensors have a relatively simple operating principle as they rely on a two-point contact system.

When a conductive fluid such as water or an acidic or caustic chemical comes in contact with both points at once, an alert signal is sent. LiquidWatch II by PermAlert is a point leak detection system that can detect liquids using discrete probes.

Moreover, backup generators are used in almost all data centers to provide backup in a power outage. Leaks from these generators and their fuel tanks are another cause for concern as it poses a safety hazard and a significant business continuity threat.

Since these backup power generators are typically placed in basement and sub-levels, the chances of moisture being present are also greater. PermAlert has designed a special probe to detect fuel known as the PHLR Probe.

The PHLR series probes are resettable hydrocarbon probes that detect hydrocarbon leaks in tanks, pipes, sumps, and other containment areas.

Cable Sensor Systems

While probe and point sensors are effective and reliable at leak detection, identifying where they can be placed is a serious issue. In several applications such as small confined spaces, drainage areas, drip pans, point sensors are very cost-effective.

However, probe sensors aren’t the best option when the leak source is more difficult to define or predict. For instance, cable sensors prove to be the better choice along drains, pipes, or under raised floors.

Cable sensors come in various materials, but what makes cable sensors so unique is that they can identify and alert that a leak has occurred and locate exactly where the leak has occurred along the cable.

PermAlert’s PAL-AT leak detection controller is a versatile device that can work with both point and cable sensors. PermAlert offers various sensing cables, including the AGW-Gold Sensing Cable, AGT-Gold Sensing Cable, and TFH-Gold Sensing Cable.

All these sensing cables offer unique features. For instance, the TFH-Gold Cable Sensor is a wicking cable designed specifically for hydrocarbon detection and is typically used with the PAL-AT controller in refineries and oil fields.

On the other hand, the AGT-Gold cable is typically used to detect water and corrosive chemicals. Finally, the AGW-Gold cable is a highly versatile cable that can detect water, corrosive chemicals, as well as fuel.

Typically, the AGW-Gold is used in a multitude of applications including secondary contained pipes, subfloors of cleanroom facilities, overhead chilled water pipes in data centers, and high-temperature steam pipe networks.


Our ever-increasing reliance on data centers has resulted in the need for multiple levels of redundancy and safeguards to ensure the integrity of data centers through monitoring. Leak detection monitoring is a crucial step in ensuring uninterrupted mission-critical operations and avoidance of unplanned outages.

Water, heat, or cooling system failures, backup generator failures, and adverse weather conditions contribute significantly to unplanned outages. Therefore, the need for comprehensive leak detection systems in data centers is obvious, as liquid leaks are responsible for most of these events.

Leak detection systems can identify leaks easily and timely to prevent any major downtime or damage. Data centers can use both point sensor and cable sensor systems to effectively protect the entire data center infrastructure from liquid leaks of all sorts.

PermAlert has been offering liquid leak detection products and solutions for more than 30 years to industries worldwide. To learn more about PermAlert’s leak detection systems and how your data center can benefit from them, get in touch today.

Check out the case studies to see how PermAlert has helped various facilities globally, or request a quote today!

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