Power protection for the data centre

All the servers in the world are useless without electricity. And securing the supply of power has become a key challenge for data centre managers. Swinburne University faced this challenge in the solution design for their data centres.

As we wrote recently, universities are great places to see the latest technologies tested under fire. With large, demanding user populations that run all sorts of hardware they need to build infrastructure that can deal with just about any combination of hardware and software. And they need that infrastructure to be always on and always working.

At Swinburne University of Technology an extensive wide area network with more than 150 servers spans five Melbourne campuses and connects to a Malaysian campus to support over 50,000 users ranging from students to academic and administrative staff. The network runs data, video and voice. It is the University's phone system and is essential not only for providing teaching and learning services, but supporting research programs, student and administrative functions.

As Joe Cusmano, Data Centre Manager at Swinburne puts it, “Everything runs off the network. Therefore maintaining network services is critical. We can't afford to have 2,000 plus staff sitting around being non-productive for hours because we have no phones and no computers.”

With this in mind, the University's IT architects have invested carefully in a number of protective measures to maximise network up-time. Cusmano's team has built a new primary data centre establishing the previous and reconfigured the original data centre as the University's new disaster recovery centre. In addition to providing a margin of safety and increasing IT capacity, (the new data centre houses a total of 144 server racks), the move has enabled Swinburne to use more energy efficient technologies thereby reducing its environmental footprint.

Cusmano notes, “Both data centres are maintained on the same campus but are located in different buildings and on different power grids. In fact the new data centre receives power from two different substations which adds to the security of maintaining service. If one grid or substation goes down, we simply run the centre off the other grid.”

Another long-term network protection measure has been the use of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) technology. Swinburne’s IT department was an early adopter of UPS and generator systems in the early '90s after experiencing less than perfect power at its campuses. Today Swinburne boasts UPS system support for all critical IT equipment on every campus, with almost 60 Eaton UPS units installed for a combined rating of close to 3 megawatts. “Our most recent UPS purchases were two Eaton 9395 UPS systems for the new data centre,” Cusmano says. “Both are 500 kilowatts, backed up by a 1.1 megawatt generator".

The UPS units are monitored through Eaton's Power Xpert power management software. The software centrally monitors all of Swinburne’s three phase and single phase UPSs over the WAN and provides in-depth reporting and analysis of power-related activity. It includes single-line diagrams and detailed UPS information, and monitors system status of other elements in the critical power distribution system —such as the generators. The information is continuously displayed to IT staff on a rolling screen in the University's help desk area with alarms sent to on-call IT personnel.

The net result for Cusmano and his team has been increased system reliability with the capacity to better manage scheduled maintenance and minimise interruption for the staff and students.

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