University closed data centers instead of upgrading them

The University reduced the number of data centers after weighing costs.

University closed data centers instead of upgrading them

Rebecca Harrington

The University of Minnesota’s data centers manage and store everything from grades and financial data to the websites’ servers.

Data centers use more than 2 percent of the electricity in the U.S., according to a 2011 study from Stanford University.

In 2010, the Office of Information Technology had plans to purchase portable data centers to increase energy efficiency, which would have cost up to $7 million.

But instead, the office canceled the project altogether and consolidated the University’s then-several data centers into one main location and a backup.

Patton Fast, OIT chief technology officer and enterprise architect, said President Eric Kaler had asked the office to “recalibrate the risk” associated with expanding the University’s data centers, and the office found that canceling the project was more cost-effective.

“We don’t want to be spending money just to spend money,” Fast said. “… Now we’re under heavier scrutiny, but we have to hold ourselves under heavier scrutiny than anyone else puts us under.”

OIT weighed the risk and impact a data center malfunction would have, concluding that the benefits of the upgrade would not necessarily be worth the investment.

While consumer electronics like smartphones and laptops are constantly being updated, Fast said, larger, more complex technology like data centers hasn’t changed very much over the years.

Energy use

Data centers use so much energy because they’re almost always running and require constant cooling.

The University’s data centers only close one weekend a year for maintenance.

In closing the other data centers, the University has reduced its electricity usage from 12.4 million kilowatt-hours in 2011 to a projected 10 million kilowatt-hours this year. An average home uses about 11,280 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The University has also reduced energy use and expanded its storage with cloud services. Storing in the cloud means the University sends its information to a data center managed by another company, which stores it.

Although the University has consolidated its data centers, cloud services and other practices have increased its storage capacity by nearly 60 percent since 2010.

Fast said he foresees greater use of the cloud in the future for non-private data. University policy and state and federal laws require the University to store its own protected data, like health care, educational and contractual data.

While these changes have reduced the University’s electricity usage, Fast said the bottom line is saving money.

“The overarching goal of all this is to reduce the overall cost to the University,” he said.