Tech Tuesday: The Data Center is 'cool' again

Tech Tuesday: The Data Center is 'cool' again

From Information Resources and Technologies

Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? The Data Center (which houses the majority of UST's back-end server/storage equipment which is the foundation of the university's IT service) did, in the form of three brand new CRAC (Computer Room Air Conditioner) units that were installed over the Christmas break. Santa's sack wasn't big enough to handle this job – he needed a crane! The three new units replaced two units, more than 20 years old, that performed valiantly but were no longer able to keep up with the intense heat generated by our ever-expanding data environment. Despite extraordinary efforts by the Data Center team to maximize cooling, power and airflow, it ultimately became impossible to keep the temperatures below 80 degrees, and the time to install new units was upon us.

The Data Center team helped by providing expertise and assistance, but the primary responsibility for this project fell to Physical Plant staff members and their partner, NewMech. There was a strong desire to keep the Data Center functional during the replacement, which required careful choreography and creative thinking from our Physical Plant team. In addition to coordinating the delivery and installation of these massive CRAC units (6 feet high, 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep) into to our decidedly pre-Information Age building, they cleverly used our most ubiquitous Minnesota resource – extreme cold – to cool the room for more than a week while the old units were shut down and replaced.

Though skepticism abounded as workers opened windows and taped giant ducts to giant fans, the temporary cooling worked exceptionally well. It worked so well that we will be looking at these "economizers," as the industry terms them, as we design our new Data Center over the next several years in order to leverage our natural environment to save money and electricity.

In addition to this innovative work, the installation of the units required new piping run from basement to roof, changes to the electrical system, delivery of the new units and removal of the old units. All this work performed by Physical Plant, NewMech and several independent contractors went flawlessly. Getting the units into the Data Center itself was one of the trickiest challenges. After the crane placed the new units on the loading dock, they still had to be rolled down the corridor and into the Data Center. At some points the clearance was less than an inch, but in they went without adding any scars to our historic building.

After more than a week of intense effort, it was time to turn the new units on. Though confident in our numbers, it's always a little nerve-wracking the first time you apply power to such a large system. We are happy to report that they worked flawlessly, and our Data Center is now easily able to maintain an average temperature of 69 degrees; Data Center heaven! While the Data Center tends to be an invisible part of our campus environment, it is certainly an essential one. The fine work by Physical Plant, their partners and our Data Center Managers have ensured we will be able to maintain this essential service until the time comes to move the Data Center to a new home. We're talking literally when we say: "That's cool!"