$30 million data center is UI's greenest building yet

Platinum-level buildings are rare on college campuses

The University of Iowa?s new data center ? which received a top-level green building certification ? has computer servers arrayed to maximize air flow and improve cooling efficiency.
The University of Iowa?s new data center ? which received a top-level green building certification ? has computer servers arrayed to maximize air flow and improve cooling efficiency.

IOWA CITY — A $30 million University of Iowa building that most students and faculty will never see has been certified as one of the greenest in the nation.

The UI’s new Information Technology Facility was awarded platinum certification — the highest level — in the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program this month.

Platinum-level buildings are rare on college campuses. Only about 20 of the thousands of higher education buildings in the United States had achieved the status in 2011, according to a report in Scientific American magazine.

Data processing operations for the university and UI Hospitals and Clinics will be gradually migrated from a variety of campus locations to the new 45,000-square-foot facility over the next six months.

The building is highly secure and not open to visitors; the UI doesn’t even like to share its address because it might invite security intrusions.

The data center will use about 71 percent less energy than a comparable facility constructed with standard building practices, according to Liz Christiansen, director of the UI’s Office of Sustainability. That means lower carbon emissions for electric consumption and lower energy bills.

The UI has been discussing the need for such a facility since 2001 and began designing it in 2008. Over the years of discussions and planning, demand on the university’s processing centers — scattered across campus but mostly concentrated in Jesup Hall — continued to grow.

“When we make changes elsewhere to reduce waste, we turn to electronic communications and information management,” Christiansen said.

Data processing centers have a huge appetite for electrical power, said UI Chief Information Officer Steve Fleagle. That’s due not only to the power demands of the computer processors but also the air conditioning needed to keep them from overheating.

While the big servers that handle the UI’s data crunching needs have become more efficient, engineers have also found better ways to shed the heat from them so that air conditioning demand is lower.

The new building has two “data halls” filled with computers.

“Air flows in all computers from one cool aisle to another hot aisle,” Fleagle said. “By managing that hot aisle separately it’s much more efficient.”

Aside from energy efficiency, the building had to be designed for high security and to meet a wide array of sustainability measures outlined in the LEED certification process.

Walls are 12-inch-thick precast concrete, and the roof has no ventilation pipes or other penetrations that could cause a leak. The structure is hardened to be able to withstand a mid-strength tornado.

Reduced opportunities for physical intrusion are just one level of a multilayered information security framework, Fleagle said. The university limits the information it shares about its information technology security arrangements to minimize the clues it could provide potential hackers.

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