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University avoids raised floor in new data center

Bryant University is consolidating its servers onto blades, but was worried that traditional raised floor cooling wouldn't be enough for those hot, dense systems.

When Bryant University decided to consolidate four data centers with about 75 servers down to one location with about 40 servers, it thought about building a traditional data center -- raised floors, CRAC units, the whole nine yards. But finding the right space and enough money proved to be too much.

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"We went through a number of renditions," said Richard Siedzik, the director of communications and telecommunications services at the Smithfield, R.I., university. "The space was our biggest problem. The space we're in downstairs, if we were to build a raised floor, we would have no headroom."

Siedzik also said that because of the infrastructure that would go into building a raised floor, the construction would take longer and cost twice as much as an alternative method: pumping refrigerant from a chiller outside into pipes above the cooling devices within the rows of servers.

Another problem with what Siedzik called a "legacy" data center was the lack of cooling power for Bryant's high-powered blade servers. The university is working on migrating all of its applications to Power-based IBM blades. They currently have three BladeCenter chassis filled with JS21 blades. Meanwhile, it's ordering a fourth chassis and looking to upgrade to Power6-based blades when they hit the streets. They even have two rack-mount System p5 550s that it's migrating to blades.

With that sort of server density, Siedzik said it would have had a hard time getting the necessary cooling to the blades from a typical raised floor environment.

"When you look at these BladeCenters, the kilowatt per rack goes way up," he said. "We designed this for 100kW per square foot. When we told our facilities people that, they thought we were crazy."

As of now, Bryant has a 450-square-foot data center sitting on the bottom floor of the university's international business center offices. The data center has mostly empty American Power Conversion Corp. (APC) racks alongside APC's In-Row cooling devices that are ready to take on the new servers for the planned migration date of June 15. On that day, folks from Bryant, IBM and APC will move equipment from the separate data centers and into the new centralized location. They'll migrate as many applications as they can to the blades, leaving some distributed programs in specific department buildings where they're needed.

Driving consolidation

"There were four data centers, two that were higher end and two that were lower end," said Arthur Gloster, vice president of information systems and chief information officer at Bryant. "Nevertheless, they had to be supported. The whole idea was to consolidate to one and look at the savings associated with that."

Server virtualization had much to do with Bryant's ability to consolidate its servers. Specifically, the university is using IBM's LPAR technology on the System p blade servers on which it's running Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Prior to virtualization, Siedzik said many of its Intel-based servers were running at 5% utilization rates -- that has since gone up to 60%-70%. The university even virtualized its enterprise resource planning (ERP) student information system application, SunGard Banner, to Linux on Power-based blades. Siedzik said IBM told Bryant it was the first school to do so.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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