The upside to downtime: Data disruption ahead during campus renovation

Sometimes a little downtime and disruption is needed to make important improvements: See road construction season, which, yes, is nearly upon us.

This week, instead of cars delayed by traffic cones, it might be our data and imagery that do not arrive as quickly as expected, as the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus makes upgrades to its infrastructure.

The campus relies on chilled water flowing through a network of subterranean pipes to cool everything from hospital laboratories to data center facilities. Starting on Tuesday, March 31, the renovation of central utilities that service the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) and surrounding buildings (Computer Science, Engineering Hall, Union South, Wendt Commons, to name a few) will continue near the intersection of Charter and Dayton Streets until Friday, April 3.

The project includes increasing the size of chilled water piping in the area for better service to existing buildings and in anticipation of future campus development.

How will this affect SSEC employees, visitors, and Data Center users?

While there may be significant interruptions in workflow, particularly for those scientists involved in modeling or satellite data processing, Scott Nolin, head of SSEC’s Technical Computing department, says that principal investigators and customers of SSEC’s Data Center have been notified of potential outages. Further, SSEC computing, engineering, and data center leads have been planning for this construction for the past several months.

According to Nolin, “this is a unique event that will affect units in different ways. While the utility work outside is not directly related to us, our chilled water — which is important to cooling all of our computing resources — will be turned off for four business days.”

Nolin, along with SSEC building manager Mark Werner and SSEC Data Center manager Jerold Robaidek, have prioritized several phases of shutdown, determining which critical resources must remain on, and which will be able to survive without power for these few days.

Processing large volumes of scientific data requires massive computing resources. These resources, in turn, generate heat, requiring constant cooling to prevent equipment from overheating.

Werner notes that the biggest impact will be borne by SSEC’s Data Center, where energy consumption reaches about 200 kilowatts per hour. As a result, some large, computing-intense clusters may need to be turned off if backup systems do not provide the necessary cooling, explains Werner.

“Cooler temperatures outside will surely help with the temperature inside,” Werner says.

Because these systems operate 24/7 and are rarely turned off, Nolin explained that the downtime creates an opportunity to improve the physical design of the Data Center and implement some equipment upgrades — in an effort to improve service once all systems are back online.

Desktop computers throughout the building will be unaffected by the outage. The Data Center downtime is expected to begin at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 31 and continue until Friday, April 3 or Saturday, April 4.

Construction on Charter Street, looking north. Credit: Bill Bellon, SSEC.

Construction on Charter Street, looking north. Credit: Bill Bellon, SSEC.

By Jean Phillips