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Humana Builds A Twenty-First Century Data Center For Healthcare

Healthcare costs face national scrutiny--and healthcare companies are responding with green data centers designed to deliver lower capital and operating expenses (CAPEX and OPEX).They are doing  this  by systematically reducing energy costs and by virtualizing away hardware and the costly software licensing fees that go with it. A case in point is Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana, Inc., a Fortune 200 corporation that employs 23,500 associates to market its health benefit consumer services in 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Humana decided in the mid-2000s to proceed with a green data center build that would not only deliver hard dollar savings over the long haul, but also be well-positioned for a business that has nearly tripled to 11.5 million participants over the past few years, making Humana the second largest Medicare prescription drug carrier in the United States and the most rapidly growing U.S. Medicare Advantage carrier.  

The data center challenge was evident to both executive and IT management, who recognized that successful business expansion depended upon technology that could support the needs of the business. Two Humana goals were a state-of the-art data center that would deliver scalability, flexibility and cost efficiency for information technology assets, as well as a focus on technology infrastructure to see what direct technology solutions could be brought to bear on reducing equipment power consumption, footprints, costs and overall IT labor costs.

Humana's green data center was replacing a 60-year-old facility. "We wanted flexibility,  cost efficiency, expandability and the ability to respond to any emerging technology need resulting from business evolution and growth," said Alan Ainsworth, Humana's Director of IT Operations.

Humana and its vendor/consultant data center team immediately took aim at PUE (power usage effectiveness) in the design phase of the new facility. PUE is a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a data center. It does this by dividing the amount of power entering the data center by the power used to run the data center's IT infrastructure. As overall data center efficiency increases, the PUE quotient, or ratio approaches 1. "A perfect PUE ratio is a 1, but that is virtually impossible to get to," said Ainsworth.

The team's data center modeling incorporated requirements for floor and ceiling designs, power generation and distribution, cooling, rack specifications and network cable distribution.  In the course of each modeling exercise, different room configurations, equipment placements, air conditioning locations and sizes, under-floor cold air efficiency and hot air evacuation designs were evaluated. "Several threads of our project centered around best practices, such as the HVAC (heat, ventilation, air conditioning) and power cooling areas," said Ainsworth.

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