New Data Center: Reliable, Energy-Efficient

Posted: May 20, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: May 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

By Dave Andrews

The new Aquia Building, facing Aquia Creek Lane. Photo by Dave Andrews

Try squeezing 50 people into a one-bedroom apartment, and it won’t be long before you realize it’s time to move to a bigger place.

There was a similar situation in Mason’s old data center in Thompson Hall. The growing information technology needs of the university had far exceeded the capacity of the old data center. That “one-bedroom apartment” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Twenty five years ago, Mason had much more modest IT needs. But these days, it’s a whole new world of technology. The university wanted to bring its data center up to date, but it also recognized the need for additional space to accommodate future growth.

The new home for the data center is located inside the brand-spanking-new Aquia Building, which is nestled between Student Union Building I, West Building and Krug Hall.

Cooled air flows unobstructed beneath the floor and directly into the equipment cabinets. Photo by Dave Andrews

Featuring a streamlined layout and advanced cooling techniques, the data center will not only operate more smoothly, but it also will be much more energy efficient.

The new data center embraces Mason’s sustainability goal of reducing the campus’ carbon footprint. Designers focused on efficiently using power and cooling – the two most critical resources for a data center.

The structure itself is also economical.

“To have a building of this size and quality, complete with a data center, for around $20 million is phenomenal,” says Walt Sevon, executive director of Technology Systems Division.

“Add to that its focus on energy efficiency, and it becomes clear that the university will benefit a great deal from this building.”

Air flow — essential for proper cooling — in the old data center was much more restricted. Most of the wiring in the old center was below the raised floor, which obstructed the air flow that cooled the cabinets. The new center has the wiring located above the floors rather than below the units, allowing air to move much more freely.

Sevon notes that the backup uninterruptable power supply and generator in the new center are also more advanced, making the center much more reliable in the event of a power outage.

“The biggest thing we are doing to use energy more efficiently is the virtualization of servers,” Sevon says.

“Where once we used a good amount of energy to run one application on a single computer, we are now running multiple applications on a single system. It uses the same amount of energy and significantly reduces the number of physical servers, thanks to virtualization.”

The battery backup room has its own generator to ensure the equipment has continual power. Photo by Dave Andrews

The battery backup room has its own generator to ensure the equipment has continual power. Photo by Dave Andrews

And having a more reliable facility means that more faculty members could benefit from relocating servers inside their offices to the new data center.

In addition, moving servers to the new data center would reduce utility costs. It’s like owning a dog, but not having to clean up after it.

“It is extremely expensive to power and cool a cluster of servers located in faculty office space,” Sevon says.

[To have a server relocated to the new data center, contact John Kettlewell, director of Technology Support Services, at 703-993-3358.]

“Now we have a designated space that uses power more efficiently, has ample backup power capabilities, is monitored around the clock and has enough room for us to grow for years to come.”

The Information Technology Unit will move the data center out of Thompson Hall and into the Aquia Building beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 4. This move will affect most of the online services provided to the university, including Mason web sites, Mason e-mail, Patriot Web/Banner Self-Service and MESA. All services should be available by 8 a.m. on Monday, June 7. For more information on the move, see

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