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University of Michigan takes important strides in research and sustainable computing
Posted on 31-May-2012 08:03. | Tags Filed under: News.

University of Michigan takes important strides in research and sustainable computing
The University of Michigan is putting the finishing touches on a new eco-friendly data center, known as the Modular Data Center.

The new data center houses high-performance computing equipment in a compact container the size of several shipping containers. It also uses outdoor air instead of expensive, industrial air conditioners to cool equipment. The MDC's innovative design promotes sustainable computing, and U-M is the first university in the nation to build this kind of structure.

A traditional data center reuses the hot air generated by the computing equipment; chilling it and then delivering it back into the computing equipment.

"Rather than running what amounts to a very expensive air conditioner all year long, the MDC allows us to essentially open the windows during the colder months, and limit air conditioning to the few months in the summer when we really need it," said Andy Palms, director of communications systems and data centers at U-M.

In a typical data center, the energy cost for cooling can be twice the cost of power dedicated to computing. The use of ambient air significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the computers. In comparison to a traditional data center like the Michigan Academic Computing Center, the MDC could potentially save US$50,000 per month in energy costs US$600,000 over an entire year.

The MDC is just one of a few different kinds of data centers at U-M. Each data center offers different levels of security and reliability, depending on the nature of the computing work performed. For example, some data, such as financial or health research, requires high security and reliability (constant monitoring and generator back-up in case of power outages). In some cases, the data processing or the data itself is less sensitive and does not require the same costly environment. The MDC is specifically designed to deliver cost-effective, high-performance computing cycles.

"Expanding our capability for computationally rich research is a priority for the University of Michigan," said Laura Patterson, chief information officer and associate vice president at U-M. "The MDC helps support the broad range of our research community's needs, while being mindful of cost and energy efficiencies. It's an important milestone for the university's leadership in research, technology and sustainability."

The Modular Data Center project was made possible through the joint efforts of Information and Technology Services, Office of Research Cyberinfrastructure, and Architecture, Engineering and Construction. Capital funding was provided by the U-M Office of the Provost.

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