U-M's energy-saving Modular Data Center cools down computing costs

The University of Michigan has opened a new energy-efficient Modular Data Center, the very first of its kind in the nation.

What distinguishes the new center from others is its modular design and a cooling system that uses ambient outdoor air (when the temperature is below 80 degrees) to cool the equipment, rather than the costly process of using recirculated chilled air for cooling, according to Andy Palms, director of communications systems and data centers at U-M.

The center was built to lower the cost of computing for researchers and to be more environmentally friendly, Palms says.

The $6 million center at 2901 Baxter Road in Ann Arbor is the size of three shipping containers. "Typically you used to look at data centers in terms of how many square feet they have, just pretty much like any building ... but now what's become more important is the electrical capacity of the data center," Palms explains.

The new center has a one-megawatt capacity. In total the entire university consumes about 85 megawatts of electrical capacity. Compare that with another data center built earlier at the university, which cost $20 million and consumes two megawatts of power.

"When [the Modular Data Center] is full, we are expecting that the charge for electricity will be about $600,000 per year, but in a traditional data center we'd expect our electrical bill to be about $1.2 million a year," Palms says.

Its modular construction leaves room for two more pods to be built onsite. "Hopefully our researchers will receive more grants and will need more capacity, and we could, at least at this particular location, add two more of them." And with technology changing at whirlwind speed, "it might be that future modules that we purchase might have even more efficient cooling in them," he adds.

Source: Andy Palms, director of communications systems and data centers at U-M
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar

A tour of the facility at 2901 Baxter Road will be held for U-M faculty, staff, and researchers on June 14 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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