Lunch ‘n Learn: Curtis Hillegas on Princeton’s new data center.

A typical server "rack", commonly se...

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Curtis Hillegas and a team of Princeton facilities staff members, technologists, scientists and external vendors have envisioned and executed the new data center being built at the Forrestal Campus. Begun in September of 2008, The Center will open later this year. The new data center will allow the University to migrate away from its current data center, meet its ever-growing research needs, and make better use of the power consumption involved in data processing.

Hillegas says that Princeton needs a new data center because the existing center, a building built in the 1960’s–and showing its relative age–needs an upgrade. The reasons for moving the operations to a new location rather than fixing or rebuilding the existing center include the fact that contemporary data centers tend to make a lot of noise because of huge, loud generators, and since the existing center is in a residential area, this could cause a noise problem for the community. There is also a lot of groundwater at the current location, which is inherently dangerous to data centers. There is a need for 5 megawatts of power, and fire-suppression technologies, both of which are easier and more cost efficient to build from scratch than to retrofit. Ideological reasons exist as well.

Research computing is growing at Princeton. Computational capacity requirements double every year at the University. The new facility will allow for far greater productivity in processing data. In fact, one goal of this center is to reach the processing equivalent of 10% of the national supercomputing facility. Hillegas said that he has been asked why cloud-based data crunching wouldn’t work for Princeton. He explained that cloud computing works best for services like Gmail, everyday end-user applications that do not require, for example, low latency (a very fast response time). Research computing needs proximate, controlled nodes with guaranteed connectivity and dedicated resources. Power supply is another key reason to move the facility.

Hillegas talked about the benefits of the new data center in terms of PUE, or Power Utilization Efficiency. This number, expressed in watts, represents the power entering the data center dived by the power actually entering the servers. For example, a 100 watt server in the current data center might actually require 220 watts to run. The actual PUE of an average departmental connectivity closet is around 300 watts. The more efficiently the power is used for its intended purpose, the lower the cost of the center.

The primary goal of the new data center is to meet Princeton University’s ever-increasing research and administrative service needs. Other goals are that it will likely remain useful through 2020, utilize the university’s resources more effectively, and make the best possible use of natural resources. Hillegas feel that the new data center will meet or exceed expectations.

 

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