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Five lessons of a data center overhaul

By Brian Chee, Curtis Franklin Jr. and Oliver Rist
June 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

InfoWorld - What are the three most important ingredients of a successful project? Planning, planning, planning. For our data center makeover at the University of Hawaii's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), we planned early and often, and still got bit by last-minute surprises and devilish details that cost us time and money. We'll do it a little differently next time. You too can learn from our mistakes.

Our little room in the HIG (Hawaii Institute of Geophysics), HIG 319, was no stranger to servers, though it only had a casual acquaintance with them. When we started the project, the room had six racks installed, one with an 80kW APC InfraStruXure UPS being used at 40kW capacity, and most of the rest of the racks only partially populated with servers for the various SOEST departments.

SOEST needed the new data center to house a number of new server clusters for use by the research labs. An initial estimate would add three clusters comprised of a mix of traditional servers and blade servers housed in new racks. Managing this upgrade would require doubling HIG 319's square footage, adding an additional 250 amps of electrical power on a new breaker panel and completely revamping the cooling system, which at the beginning of the project consisted of three wall-mounted window-style air conditioners that were already giving their all, to little effect.

Although HIG 319 had some drawbacks in terms of location, the tight deadline precluded any more political wrangling for a more favorable position on the building's ground floor, which was occupied by several research labs. Besides, the maintenance corridor directly behind the room was a welcome advantage, and the room directly next to HIG 319 was a little-used storage room exactly the same size. Combining the rooms would give us the square footage we needed. We drew a deep breath and took the plunge.

Lesson 1: Give your physical space a good physical

A basic task list was fleshed out in February of 2007, and work began immediately, temporarily moving HIG 319's existing servers, removing whatever artifacts were being stored in HIG 319a, knocking down the wall separating the two rooms and gutting everything else. A sexy new tile floor had been installed, the walls painted and new lighting wired up -- when the campus facilities management department threw us the first curve ball.

Because the SOEST building is almost 50 years old, it's standard UH (University of Hawaii) practice to have a structural engineer vet the room before anything as heavy as a new data center is installed -- we just didn't find out about that little detail until it was too late to go anywhere else. Further, because the building's original structural records had long since disappeared into Hawaii's tropical ether, the engineer had to start from scratch with his calculations.

Reprinted with permission from InfoWorld. Story copyright 2012 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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