Syracuse University, IBM Partner In Green Data Center

Syracuse University (SU) has just completed a new green data center that is expected to use about 50 percent less energy than a typical data center in operation today. The $12.4 million, 12,000-square-foot facility (6,000 square feet of infrastructure space and 6,000 square feet of raised-floor data center space), built in partnership with IBM and the New York state government, uses a tri-generation system to produce all the data center's required power plus chilled water to cool all the servers

December 16, 2009

5 Min Read
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Syracuse University (SU) has just completed a new green data center that is expected to use about 50 percent less energy than a typical data center in operation today. The $12.4 million, 12,000-square-foot facility (6,000 square feet of infrastructure space and 6,000 square feet of raised-floor data center space), built in partnership with IBM and the New York state government, uses a tri-generation system to produce all the data center's required power plus chilled water to cool all the servers, as well as the cooling and heating needs for the building next door.

The data center, which will be fully operational in January 2010 and will be used as SU's primary computing facility, has a variety of other green characteristics. It operates completely off the grid and incorporates an energy-saving direct current (DC) power distribution system. By the time it is fully populated in mid-2010, the data center will have about 200 terabytes (TB) of storage, a virtual environment with 160 cores and more than 1TB of RAM, an IBM z10 mainframe and an IBM p575 for modeling data center airflow and operations, according to Chris Sedore, the university's CIO.

IBM provided more than $5 million in equipment, design services and support to the project, including supplying the power generation equipment, IBM BladeCenter, IBM Power 575 and IBM z10 servers, as well as a DS8300 storage device. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) contributed $2 million to the project. Senator David Valesky announced earlier this week that he has secured $500,000 in additional funding from the New York State Senate for the project.

Sedore says it's hard to single out the most impressive green feature of the new center. "I think that the best view is the overall pursuit of 'greenness' in all aspects of the designed and planned operation. We have 'plugs and sockets' that let us connect everything across the layers of a data center operation," he says. "From power generation and distribution, cooling, and airflow to IT elements like storage, virtualization, networking and application performance, these allow us to fully optimize all aspects of the operation, not just for green or just for performance, but for green performance."

SU and IBM expect the data center will use about 50 percent less energy than a typical data center in operation today, which they say will make it one of the world's "greenest" computer centers. The 12 natural gas-fueled microturbines that power the data center can generate 800 kilowatts of electricity, says Bob Hanson, one of the IBM leaders on the project.Heat generated by the microtubines is captured as it rises up each of their smokestacks, and that heat is converted into chilled water using a liquid cooling system of absorption chillers that IBM and SU created, explains Hanson. Heat exchangers in the racks capture heat coming from the computers. That heat is transported out, and the chilled water is brought, via hoses, directly in to the heat exchangers or "cooling doors" to keep the systems cool. The system eliminates the need for traditional air conditions and fans, and Hanson says the water "has the capacity to remove 300 times more heat than air does. So that is much more efficient." Down the road, the plan is to integrate the water cooling system with computer management systems so that the chilled water can be dynamically moved to the systems that are running and diverted from systems that are not in use, Hanson says.

Another energy saver is the full support of DC power within the data center. Since the internal electronics of computers all operate on essentially low-voltage DC, and data centers typically operate on alternating current (AC), the electricity being delivered by a central power plant through an electric grid usually has to convert the AC into DC to power the servers. At this green data center, there's no conversion necessary. "The electronics to do that conversion dissipates some of the energy," says Hanson, adding that the DC support will result in about a ten percent energy savings.

Because the data center is self-powered and does not operate on the grid, it's actually more reliable, according to Hanson. "It basically will only lose power if someone, for example, were to put a backhoe through the gas pipe." There is back-up power, however. If the natural gas connection were to be lost, there is a 2000-gallon propane tank onsite that has the capacity to power the data center for up to 48 hours, and there is an ongoing deal with a supplier to re-fill the tank as needed.

The data center will be used for more than just providing computing power to the university. IBM and SU intend to establish a Green Data Center (GDC) Analysis and Design Center in 2010 to offer research and analysis services for clients and others who want to build new energy efficient data centers or optimize the efficiency of current centers.

Hanson says the data center is "highly instrumented," and that the microturbines have several hundred sensors, all of which are collecting data about the environment, energy usage and operations. All of the cooling systems and pumps are culling data about how much chilled water is flowing, and temperature sensors throughout are measuring for any cold or hot spots. All of this data will be fed into analytical tools that can be leveraged to help others build green data centers. In addition, the data center will be open to others who want to come in and see it. "We'll certainly see benefits operationally from our new data center, but beyond that, this data center will be an active research lab and will fundamentally feed the mission of generating and imparting new knowledge," says SU's Sedore. "We expect to lead institutionally by creating such facilities and then follow up by developing new systems and technologies and educating our current and next generation workforce on how to apply them to make sure that the world stays a green place."The GDC was designed and built by Syracuse-based VIP Structures. The project is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council. SU is seeking certification under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, with a goal of achieving a Silver rating.

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