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Planning underway for ITS data center

October 16, 2008

Members of Information Technology Services (ITS) are working closely with UW-River Falls officials on a project that will allow all four data centers currently spread out across campus to move into the old archives space in the basement of the Davee Library.

The move is made possible by the fact that Textbook Services relocated from their old space in the basement of the library to the basement of Hagestad Hall last spring. The UWRF archives department is now slated to move into the spot previously held by Textbook Services, while the ITS data centers will be consolidated into one data center in the old archives space.

“Really, the most important piece to us is to get a data center that will meet our needs,” Wendy Helm, project manager for the new data center, said. “Right now we’ve got four data centers spread across campus, and that includes ITS. They’re really not the type of data centers that we would like to have and need to have to protect our data and equipment.”

Helm stressed the importance of security in a data center, but also noted that power and cooling are two other important elements.

“You want to make sure you have enough electricity for your equipment, but servers also put off a fair amount of heat,” she said. “When they get overheated, they don’t work as well.”

Helm said she met with Campus Planner Dale Braun in late September for a “project kick-off meeting.” The next steps include meetings with the architects and laying out a more defined construction schedule. Helm said she hopes to use March through May 2009 to get the archives set up in their new space. June-Aug. 2009 is the period she has tentatively set aside for the new data center to move into the old archives space.

“If they’re able to complete it in the summer, we’d ideally like to move in and get set up before school starts next year,” she said.

In addition to the new data center project, two 125 kilowatt generators and transfer switches were installed on campus to provide standby electricity for the ITS computer machine rooms, according to Tim Thum of facilities.

Thum was in charge of the generator project, and said that project design started in May 2007. Construction of the generators began in June and was completed by the middle of August. 

“The generators allow the continued operation of the network servers’ equipment during power outages, and avoids problems related to unexpected shutdowns of that type of equipment,” he said. “The generators also replace a large number of batteries that previously were used during power outages.”

The overall cost of both the generator and data center projects is approximately $2 million, according to Braun. The money used to complete them will come from the State General Fund.

Braun also said that when the Library was remodeled in 1996, two small data centers were built. As technology changed, he said he realized that there just was not enough space for everything anymore, and that is when the idea of building a whole new data center came about.

The addition of new generators was something that was discussed during the early stages of the data center project.

“During the planning of this project, we started to have more frequent power outages, and those power outages were having even more catastrophic effects on our data systems,” Braun said. “Taking down a server in a hard way is not good for the system – it takes a long time to recover from that.”

He said he knew that the installation of new generators was pivotal to the data center project, and that is why they were done first.

“The data center is something that is ‘mission critical’ to the campus,” he said. “Having a robust and reliable data network is essential to an educational institution. Making sure that we have the right data centers that are backed up with power and cooling is just essential, so I think that this project will do that.”

Helm and Braun both noted that the new data center will probably take a few years to fully complete.

“So far, we’ve just started defining what it is we want out of a new space,” Helm said. “I guess one of the challenges we’re experiencing now is determining how much space we need, how everything is going to fit and how we want it laid out.”

While Helm said she believes that one of the biggest challenges will come from trying to complete the move without interrupting services, Braun had praise for how the planning has gone so far.

“I have to say that the ITS department and the Area Research Center have been doing absolutely excellent planning work in determining space needs and looking at sequencing of remodeling and how it will affect their operations,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for better support.”

The moves and construction associated with the data center project should be relatively unnoticeable by students, aside from some instances of noise, the presence of workers on campus and certain areas of the Library potentially needing to be closed off once in a while.

“I just ask for the campus’ patience as we work all this out,” Braun said. “It’s a very complicated project. Overall, though, we’re really going to gain a lot as a result.”