New data center will efficiently enhance high-performance computing

HERSHEY, Pa. -- The Board of Trustees Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning today (March 19) endorsed final plans and the expenditure of funds for a data center at University Park. The data center is the second of its kind, with the first being built at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center.

“The increased need for a secure and robust data center at University Park arose from the expanded use of technology to provide the best education and research possible,” Nicholas Jones, executive vice president and provost, said.

“State-of-the-art, high-performance computing and data storage are absolutely essential elements of any research-intensive university,” said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research. “Advanced computational models employing big data are now commonplace across academic disciplines, with advances in virtually all fields dependent upon cyberscience.”

The Board of Trustees approved the final plans and funds for a data center at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center last November, and construction began in January. Having data centers at both University Park and the Penn State Hershey Medical Center will provide data protection and allow for the continuation of business in the event of a disaster. The University Park data center will back up the Hershey data center, and the Hershey data center will back up the one at University Park.

The University Park Data Center will be located on the north side of campus near the intersection of University Drive and Tower Road. The two-story facility will initially be built to serve a 1.75 megawatt load with the ability to add another 1 megawatt of growth within the building footprint. The site will also allow future expansion to at least 8 megawatts if needed.

As with the Hershey data center, the University Park Data Center will be very energy efficient. Data centers are hot places. An inefficient one can use almost as much non-computing or “overhead” energy for cooling and power conversion as it does to power its servers. The University looked at a variety of options for cooling to ensure the greatest energy efficiency possible and will ultimately employ a three-stage process. The first stage will include heat exchangers circulating indoor air. The second stage will use water spraying on the heat exchangers to lower the temperature of air coming in. The third stage of mechanical cooling -- requiring compressors -- will be used minimally. In addition, the facility will use hot- and cold-aisle containment to segregate the hot air ejected by the equipment from the cool air circulating in the center.

A way to compare Penn State’s data center to others is to calculate the projected power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is the standard measure of facility infrastructure efficiency in the IT industry. The PUE is the total energy consumption of a data center divided by the energy consumption used for the IT equipment. The national average data center PUE is 1.7 (with some as high as 3.0). Penn State’s PUE is very low at 1.19.

This efficiency is important because the new data center is going to consolidate many individual servers dotted all over University Park. Many of these local servers are inherently inefficient and require considerable cooling, resulting in higher energy consumption. By moving at least 1 megawatt from campus to the facility, the power delivery and cooling effectiveness will be about 80 percent more efficient than if left on campus.

The total project budget for the University Park Data Center is $58 million. Funding will come primarily from borrowing and Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine reserves.

“In addition to providing additional capacity and security for our campuses’ many operational and administrative needs, these new centers will ensure that Penn State remains at the cutting edge of cyberscience, enabling us to attract and retain the very best researchers, teachers and students,” Sharkey said.

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Last Updated June 26, 2015