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Harvard Medical School modernizes IT infrastructure

Thanks to a rack-and-power management infrastructure from American Power Conversion Corp., Harvard Medical School's data center is now ready to support an array of digital offerings for its students and faculty.

As the chief information officer of the one of the world's most prestigious medical schools, John Halamka can't even imagine what would happen if his 4,000-square-foot data center experienced a power outage.

Though Harvard University prides itself on its standing as the nation's oldest institution for higher learning, Halamka is in the business of making sure Harvard Medical School (HMS) doesn't take a trip back in time. This is particularly true since the school's IT infrastructure -- which boasts 600 servers that support over 1,600 online courses -- has become such a big part of the curriculum that downtime for the server farm would mean downtime for the entire institution.

"Harvard Medical School is a completely digital world. Everything revolves around the Web. What would happen if it didn't work?" Halamka said. "It would turn from the school of 2005 to the school of 1625. I don't know what we'd do. We'd have to go down to Staples and buy paper or something."

Halamka's fears are compounded by two factors -- the nastiness of New England weather, which has left HMS without power four to five times a year, and the location of his data center, which rests in a 110-year-old building not exactly built with a data center in mind.

Halamka and his staff looked to West Kingston, R.I.-based American Power Conversion Corp. for help in January, and he said the installation of APC's InfraStruXure power management technology has helped him overcome the logistical challenges presented by his facility and HMS' location.

"Nine months into the system and not a single burp," he said.

InfraStruXure helps to integrate power, cooling and rack management and allows the selection of standardized components for modular and mobile configurations. It also offers InfraStruXure Manager, a browser accessible tool that provides monitoring of power, cooling and environmental management at the rack or room level.

According to APC's director of global healthcare markets, John Donovan, HMS' reliance on its data center underscores a major shift in the way the healthcare industry now views IT.

"Everything is now digital," Donovan said. "Data centers are in the center of things … and it's so much more critical than in the past to be resilient, redundant, scalable and have fail-over."

The power system at HMS now works like this: Around 480 volts of power are fed into the data center to the UPS, which is conditioned and protected, and then fed to the breaker panels that are in turn fed to each of the individual rack power distribution units, which are power strips with 24 outlets each.

APC's server racks also include an added security feature -- the installation of unique combination locks for each rack -- allowing the IT staff to assign a unique combination to each research group with computing resources. Now the IT staff has a single master key to gain access to any data rack in the event of an emergency situation.

According to Halamka, APC's technology has enabled HMS to save money on the electrical budget because APC cut all of the power whips that are fed from the breaker panel to each rack, instead of the previous practice of feeding them under the floor by hand with standard Romex cable, which he said was neither pretty nor cost effective.

"The APC racks are by far the best racks for racking 1u [and] 2u type servers. They have plenty of extra room for cabling and power cords and are esthetically pleasing in the room," Halamka said. "The best test for this is [that] all of my system administrators love these racks, even though I, as management, made the decision and first introduced [it] to them."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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