Environmental monitoring system helps college data center achieve record efficiencies
Tuesday, Apr 2nd 2013

In an effort to shrink its carbon footprint and power an increasingly connected student body with limited real estate, the School of Visual Arts in New York City upgraded its data center to include more powerful servers and an advanced environmental monitoring system.

The university, which has approximately 5,700 students and staff and is located in lower Manhattan, had multiple variables it needed to take into account when upgrading its IT infrastructure, according to ZDNet. For starters, higher education is increasingly reliant on the internet and new technologies to inform and engage students. In addition, considering that the school primarily focuses on art and design, the processing power requirements are even greater.

For any other university, the solution might be to expand its existing data center using legacy IT equipment and configurations. However, this was not an option for the School of Visual Arts for a number of reasons, ZDNet reported. For one, traditional setups would not have met the school's need to lower its electricity usage, since standard architecture can be energy intensive. Five years ago, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tasked colleges in the city to lower their carbon output by 30 percent by 2017, and the school wanted to set its data center up to meet this requirement over the next five years.

Another major reason why a legacy in-house data center setup would not have been suitable for the School of Visual Arts was that the school had limited real estate to work with. Large-scale server rooms can cover large swaths of land, but this was not an option in crowded lower Manhattan where available space is expensive and in short supply. According to the Engineering News-Record, the new data center occupies 8,000 square feet.

"When I joined SVA's staff in 2009, the college was growing rapidly and its IT infrastructure of 50 physical servers along with it," school CIO Cosmin Tomescu said to ZDNet. "Within a year, we were deep into assessing the school's long-term data center needs to provide a strong foundation for a dynamic future. Along with our design team and a fleet of external engineers, we embarked on a journey to build a flexible, efficient infrastructure that today rivals an enterprise-size environment with three to four times the IT support staff."

How the School of Visual Arts upgraded its infrastructure
Despite the many challenges the university faced, its IT staff was able to develop a unique solution that met all of the school's needs using a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system in addition to a unique setup.

To empower its growing student body while also maximizing available space, the university elected to install high density server equipment that was more powerful than legacy supplies. However, this presented the staff with an additional issue, since this equipment uses more electricity than standard configurations. To tackle this problem, the university elected to install sensors that control and monitor power usage. In addition, to make sure that the server room temperature did not get too hot, a water-based cooling system was put in place, ZDNet reported. This way, the college would not have to install large air conditioning units and it would be able to more effectively control its energy usage. After all, Engineering News-Record reported that the staff's goal was to gain LEED accreditation.

"The project's total energy savings stemmed from both server virtualization and upgrades to the cooling system and lighting," Tomescu said. "Calculated electricity savings from these initiatives totaled 302,944 kWh/yr and 30.4 kW in peak demand savings, with a corresponding annual cost savings of $60,589. This earned SVA a $48,471 NYSERDA rebate, lowering the overall project cost."