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Data in the Dark

March marked the opening of the Medical School’s new data center at the South Street campus in Shrewsbury that promises to reduce energy use by 40 percent over the current data center. 

The state-of-the-art, 7,400 square-foot facility, will house all Medical School servers, plus those used by the University President’s office. The new center was designed with sustainability in mind, employing many novel features that significantly reduce energy consumption. “This is one of the first data centers of its kind,” said Paul Hanbury, senior mechanical project manager, who oversees the project. 

Energy savings will come from a range of carbon emission-reducing features, including a high-efficiency cooling system, a clean flywheel backup electricity storage system, and no need for lights inside the center. “Since the controls and the mechanical components of the ventilation system are located outside the actual data center, technicians do not have to enter for maintenance or service,” Hanbury said. “So the only reason to go in the new facility will be to install new servers. That means we can keep the lights off almost all the time to reduce electricity use.” 

To perform optimally, servers and related equipment require adequate air flow. In the new center, the need for powered air circulation was reduced by eliminating common airflow restrictions. “Unlike older data centers, this one does not have pipes, conduits, or duct work running beneath its raised floor,” Hanbury said. 

Energy savings will also come from using “air-side economizing” technology, Hanbury said, which brings in outdoor air for cooling the indoor space. Thus, chilled water for the air conditioning system will be required only during the warmest 25 percent of the year. 

The school needs its servers to work all the time, but the new data center won’t use batteries for backup power. To bridge the gap between power outages and when the facility’s generator kicks in, the new center will store energy in a high-density rotating flywheel. Spinning flywheels store energy kinetically rather than chemically, out-last batteries by 15 to 20 years, and do not produce hazardous waste, making them more cost efficient and environmentally friendly than battery-based systems Hanbury said.

Migration of all servers to the new center is scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer. “We’re very pleased with the progress of this project,” Hanbury said.