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Inside a green data center

San Diego Supercomputing Center constructs one using energy-efficient materials and techniques, plus such retro ideas as windows that actually open

By , Network World
November 05, 2007 12:05 AM ET

Network World - The San Diego Supercomputing Center's $32 million data-center expansion, slated for completion next July, is designed to be energy efficient from the ground up.


Slideshow: Take a closer look at SDSC's green data center


The 80,000-square-foot building will double the size of the SDSC's facilities; besides an additional 5,000 square feet of data-center space, the expansion will house classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and a 250-seat auditorium.

Under development since 2003, the building has an energy-efficient displacement ventilation system that uses the natural buoyancy of warm air to provide improved ventilation and comfort; exterior shade devices, such as awnings, to control temperatures by blocking the sun; and natural ventilation (the windows in the building will open) to save on energy.

The SDSC also is carefully selecting the IT equipment that will populate the data center to help lower overall energy consumption and save on operational costs.

"To marry the energy efficiency of [the building] with the IT systems and understand what impact they are putting upon each machine room" will be crucial to the data-center expansion's success, says Gerry White, director of engineering services with the design and construction office at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), which is home to the supercomputer center.

The decision to build an energy-efficient data center came down to a matter of need, says Dallas Thornton, the SDSC's IT director. Funded by the National Science Foundation and associated with the University of California network, the SDSC provides facilities for academic research on such data-intensive topics as earthquake simulations and astrophysics. It offers users more than 36 teraflops of computing resources, as well as 2 petabytes of disk and 25 petabytes of archival tape capacity on-site.

While the high-performance computers and related equipment provided by the SDSC for this research are augmented by computers that individual projects supply, all require a significant amount of power and cooling, Thornton says. The present data center has a constant load of about 2 megawatts of power, which equals roughly enough energy for 2,000 residential homes. "Being on the cutting edge of technology, we've seen a lot of [energy] load before a lot of other folks, so we've had to do something [about energy consumption] just to stay in business," he says.

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