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Bryant U Cuts Energy Expenses 15 Percent with New Data Center

Rhode Island's Bryant University has adopted a "green" approach to energy management in its data center and has experienced campus-wide benefits as a result, including significant decreases in energy costs.

Five years ago Bryant University's IT infrastructure was in serious need of an overhaul.

"We were out of space, power, and cooling capabilities," said Richard Siedzik, director of computer and telecommunications services for the Smithfield, RI-based institution. Data center consolidation was definitely on Bryant University's agenda, as was a broader, campus-wide energy efficiency initiative.

Siedzik said the first phase of the project involved centralizing three separate computer rooms--each filled with servers--into a single data center in an effort to maximize cost and energy efficiencies.

"We knew that adding applications, leveraging new innovations, and accommodating growth were going to be very expensive with the way our servers were set up," he explained.

After exploring its options, the college's small IT team--working together with the facilities management department, chief financial officer, and president's office--decided that a brand new data center was in order. Unlike the current setup, the new iteration would have to be space- and energy-efficient and easy to scale up to accommodate the growing school's IT infrastructure needs.

"Working as a group we defined our requirements and then talked to consultants and vendors about our options," Siedzik said.

Key criteria included a build-out that would be energy efficient and relevant for at least five years. Consolidation, centralization, and virtualization were also on the group's "must have" list. In fact, Siedzik said, the last was a driving force behind the project. "We were deep into virtualization at the time and trying to reduce our server count," said Siedzik. "We wanted to build a new data center that was one-third the size of what we had in place and that had 300 percent more capacity."

Working with IBM, Bryant University learned that a legacy datacenter with a raised floor and perimeter cooling would meet its requirements. Unfortunately, the center would be expensive to design, build, and implement--much higher than the just-under-$1 million that the school had earmarked for the project. "When IBM came back to us with the numbers we just didn't have the budget to support that option," said Siedzik. IBM then suggested the APC slimline rack-mount Smart-UPS as a more affordable alternative.

Siedzik's 4 Tips for Data Center Success

  1. Align IT with the college's finance and facilities management departments to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward a common goal.
  2. When pitching the project to the powers that be, highlight the energy efficiency aspect of the project and the positive effects it will have on the entire campus.
  3. Find an energy resource partner that can help with facility, equipment, and software selection and implementation.
  4. Select a system that will accommodate the institution's IT infrastructure needs for at least the next five years.

"We'd be one of the first institutions to employ this type of architecture, which was built on row cooling versus raised floor," Siedzik explained. "It fit the bill for us both in terms of budget and in being able to get rid of some of our existing space, power, and cooling constraints."

Working with energy management solutions provider Schneider Electric (maker of the APC) of Palatine, IL, Bryant University built a new facility on campus and installed the servers, row cooling, equipment racks, a generator, chillers, and monitoring devices that track power usage in the facility. "We can look at our racks and see which components are and aren't drawing power," said Siedzik. "If a server isn't working too hard we can cap the power [supply] on that box and allocate the energy elsewhere."

The school also installed a software module that enables its IT team to monitor energy consumption across the entire campus. In total, the university has seen a 15 percent reduction in its energy expenses since rolling out the new data center and the associated equipment and software.

Siedzik said his team ran into several challenges during the project. Finding real estate to house the facility was the first hurdle, he said, since prime space is allocated to classrooms and "no one wants to give that up for a data center." Determining whether IT or facilities management would lead and control the project was another issue. In the past the IT department was a "tenant" with facilities management acting as landlord.

Siedzik wanted to take a different approach with the new data center. "Facilities management understands space and comfort cooling," he said. "What it doesn't understand are the intricacies of the equipment and what we are trying to do inside the space." To help bridge that gap the IT team brought in Schneider Electric to help educate the facilities management department on topics like the most advantageous positioning of cooling and heating sources in a data center.

"The IT team wound up taking the lead and in doing so not only became the 'landlord' of the new data center space," said Siedzik, "but also figured out what we had in common with facilities management and came up with a way to work together to reach the common goal."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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