Transforming the data center from hell

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Healthcare facility: data center as physical hazard

Norton Healthcare has four hospitals, 10 urgent-care centers and more than 50 physician practice facilities under its direction, all serviced from a single data center housed in a 100-year-old building. The data center itself is about 35 years old and had been expanded without an overall floor design throughout its decades of use, says Mike Moore, technical planning director.

The 3,900-square-foot facility originally housed mainframes but moved to a client/server architecture beginning abut 15 years ago. Equipment was added piecemeal over the years, resulting in more than 600 servers that were spread haphazardly across the floor.

"We had rows going horizontally, perpendicular, parallel, and there was certainly no hot-aisle/cold-aisle concept being utilized," Moore says.

The hospital had multiple CRAC units attempting to cool the facility, and the growth of server deployments inside the facility maxed out the available power for distribution inside the data center, making it impossible to add more equipment or expand services and applications.

One of the major limiting factors was the raised floor inside the data center that had been constructed using 24-inch squares of wood that had at some point in past been covered with 18-inch square pieces of carpet. As the hospital attempted to add more airflow to the floor, saws were used to cut out pieces of the wood floor and carpet, and aluminum vents were then placed on the floor to direct the flow up into the data center.

"When you walked through the data center, it was a physical hazard," Moore says. "You could trip over the edges of the carpet that laid one piece on top of another, and once the holes were cut, there weren't many alternatives to how you could move and lay out your equipment. When we eventually pulled up the floor, there was cabling underneath a foot and half deep, and a lot of it was old mainframe cabling that had never been removed, which of course was severely limiting the distribution of cooling."

It was determined that a major renovation of the facility would be required, including removal of all the old floor and installation of a new floor manufactured by Tate Access Floors that would accommodate under-floor airflow, as well as new wiring and data cabling.

The renovation was completed in two phases, with the facility gutted and retrofitted one half at a time. As the new floor was readied, the server rows were laid out in a hot-aisle/cold-aisle design, and new Liebert CRAC cooling units were brought in to provide adequate airflow and cooling. In addition, a redundant power distribution and UPS system was installed.

Where previously people entering the facility walked directly onto the data center floor with no security measures, a network operation center was created in the new facility, as well as a "dead man's zone" with dual doors requiring a log-in for entry onto the data center floor.

Liebert's Nform monitoring software was added to monitor the cooling and power distribution equipment, as well as alarm systems. Norton is relying heavily on virtualization to reduce the number of physical devices in the new facility. There are currently about 475 physical servers and 175 virtualized servers.

"We've beefed up security, doubled our available power, increased workload by 100 per cent without increasing staff, reduced help desk calls by 20 per cent," Moore says. With the new data center now in full operation, he believes that the hospital will have adequate room for continued expansion for another five to 10 years, and the hospital now has the ability to begin planning for the construction of a separate disaster recovery site.

"We've extended the life of the facility we have substantially, while allowing us to continue to expand the services we can offer our more than 13,000 users on the system," Moore says.

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