OHSU makes data storage a breeze
Innovative, energy-saving design makes new OHSU 'data dome' a model facility
Readers' note: This story was amended Thursday to reflect that OHSU's Data Center West is located just within Hillsboro city limits.
As the mercury steadily reaches toward the 80s on a bright, sunny Tuesday morning near Aloha, the temperature inside a hulking, silver spaceship-like geodesic dome keeps things in the cool and comfy neighborhood of 70 degrees.
There would be little wrong with this picture but for the fact that unlike at most digital data storage facilities there is nary an air-conditioning unit to be found.
Through an inherently basic, yet ingeniously designed ambient louver-and-fan system, the dome housing Oregon Health and Science Universitys newly completed Data Center West keeps it cool simply through varying velocities of circulated outside air. As the mild interior breeze cools the pods of digital data servers, storage units and controls, the warm air naturally rises and wafts out through louvers atop the dome.
This is one of the most efficient ambient air-cooling systems in the country, said Perry Gliessman, Southwest Portland-based OHSUs director of advanced technology. Most data centers use classic air conditioning. This one has no A/C or ductwork. You can get rid of those systems and have very high efficiency.
The continuous airflow cycle which is essentially reversed to heat the building during winter months saves thousands of dollars in equipment costs, while saving power for the structures primary purpose: storing millions of electronic gigabytes of invaluable medical and research data.
Beyond traditional technology
Gliessman, a seven-year OHSU veteran, designed the cooling system, along with the rest of the domed storage facility located on its West Campus near OHSUs National Primate Research Center in Hillsboro. Construction of the $22 million facility, designed to augment the medical centers smaller downtown Portland databank for years to come, started in May 2013. The dome operation was brought online on Tuesday, July 1.
Wired to channel up to 3.8 megawatts of computing power, the data center comprises modular pods designed to accommodate more computer servers as OHSUs medical and teaching facilitys data needs increase. At full capacity, Data Center West could house thousands of servers and millions of gigabytes (measured as a petabyte) of data.
Scientists and physicians increasingly use computer technologies to analyze a patients genetic profile, advanced medical imaging and other research techniques in an effort to examine the human body more precisely to better treat and cure disease.
What were trying to do with cancer, for instance, is to understand it at many levels of resolution to help individual patients and to search for cures, said Dr. Joe Gray, associate director for translational research at OHSUs Knight Cancer Institute. But the technologies we use to do that generate tremendous amounts of data. We need the capability of storing and analyzing that data in ways far beyond traditional technology.
Based on its outward appearance alone, the facility that some at OHSU simply call the Data Dome is a testament to non-traditional technology as well as thought.
Gliessman, a 25-year resident of unincorporated Washington County, started plan and design work on the dome in 2010 with OHSUs Information Technology Group. The institutions strategic vision plan deemed increased computing capacity essential to achieve its goals toward healing, teaching and research.
After being very familiar with how data centers were designed and built, I simply believed there was a better way, Gliessman said. I believed that we could build a data center designed in a way that made it more efficient and more easily expandable to meet OHSUs vision. Im very pleased to have met the design goals and excited about the technology opportunities enabled by this facility.
Backups of backups
The building features large air-intakes louvers toward the bottom and an array of air vents near the top. Below the cavernous dome space, 10 computer server pods are arranged, like a large wagon wheel, in a hub-spoke-and-wheel design. The arrangement provides the shortest path route for circulating air, fiber optic cable and power distribution.
Its a unique combination of design elements, said Gliessman, who with OHSU has a patent pending on the data domes design. You can put a lot of equipment in a small space and provide an enormous amount of power. Wed like to see a data center like this used as a model.
The center is linked via fiber optic cable to OHSUs older data storage facility, which takes up part of one floor of a downtown Portland office building.
The connection between the two centers is part of the domes high-redundancy design. To account for routine breakdowns, power lapses, weather-related mishaps and even a major earthquake, everything from power generators to digital data servers to the cooling fans have backups of backups.
We call it N plus one, Gliessman explained. We have extra everything. To maintain OHSUs research, teaching and health care services, we have to make sure this is operational 365 days and 24/7.
As cutting edge-like as the dome looks and operates, the volume of power needed eliminated solar power as a viable option.
Solar is good for lower-voltage equipment, he noted, adding that power is lost in translation from solars direct current to the alternating current needed for data storage. To connect them, you lose a little bit.
Using equipment with European power standards, however, requires a lower current draw to operate, thus providing further power savings.
You gain an extra 5 percent in power savings, Gliessman said, noting the data dome uses less than half the power to run its equipment than the downtown system.
Oliver Kesting, commercial sector lead with Energy Trust of Oregon, praised OHSU for Data Center Wests energy-efficient design, with the sustainability-based nonprofit group offering cash-incentive awards to the research institution.
OHSU has developed a truly innovative data center that is designed to meet high-energy efficiency and performance goals, Kesting said. Energy Trust is pleased to support OHSUs energy-efficiency mission through their application of advanced design strategies and technologies.
After leading some tours of the dome and hosting a ribbon-cutting event in September, Gliessman envisions taking a step back from groundbreaking energy design work.
Im going to catch my breath for awhile, he said. Its been a big effort. But theres plenty to do.Add a comment