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How a university's data centre overhaul makes a green impact

Sharon Florentine | Feb. 23, 2015
University of Cambridge's recent data center consolidation aims to reduce the university's carbon footprint as well as centralize resources, management and monitoring.

"Our IT review is a periodic way for us to look at how we're carrying out the responsibilities of IT, and how to best align IT with the work of the university. What we found was everything was fragmented and each department was doing their own thing when it came to provisioning, storage and management. Where we had a small number of racks, they weren't powered or cooled efficiently, and that was our other mission: to reduce our carbon footprint as a university by about 34 percent by the year 2020," Tasker says.

A £20 million (more than $30 million) data center overhaul and consolidation project was approved to address both of these challenges; standardizing and easing provisioning, storage and information management and increasing power and cooling efficiency, says Tasker.

Getting a Grip
With such a disparate and disjointed infrastructure, one of the major initial challenges was determining where computing resources were located as well as measuring their power consumption, says Tasker.

"One of our biggest challenges was understanding what was going on in our overall environment. Monitoring usage, looking at general power consumption, where and how resources, cooling and power are used, was very difficult because we didn't have a single source of information if there was information available at all," says Tasker.

Complexity was the major issue. Tasker says that with so many different deployments, IT needed to get control over all the assets to be able to monitor resource usage and then figure out how to best manage them to meet the needs of the university.

Scalability, Flexibility, Growth Potential
Another challenge Tasker faced was the issue of scalability. The data center consolidation needed to start small and then scale to encompass the entire university, but needed to be accomplished without disrupting day-to-day operations.

"We had to consider how to consolidate multiple sites, and we had to ensure flexibility, too. We needed a solution that would allow us a single-pane view of everything: a building management system (BMS) to automate power and cooling; energy management, data monitoring. And we needed the system to be dynamic so we could deliver adequate resources and services based on the changing needs of various departments, whether that was research, engineering, administration and the like," says Tasker.

Planning for the Future
Initially, the data center will serve University Information Services (UIS), the High Performance Computing Service (HPCS) supporting the University's research activities and the administrative needs of Cambridge Assessment's three examination boards, according to UIS. Cambridge University Press also will share the data center.

The new data center facility includes four data halls, each designed to meet the different IT density requirements of its key stakeholders, according to UIS. There are currently 60 racks across three halls: Hall 1 accommodates the HPCS's high density IT load of up to 900KW; Hall 2 provides 201KW for Cambridge Assessment's needs, and Hall 3, 240KW for UIS's servers, according to UIS.


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