New data center serves as the nucleus for University tech

Data Center
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A new, enterprise-level data center has opened to centralize the University’s critical computing resources. The center will house all enterprise and unit-specific systems, administrative computing systems and academic computing systems, including Banner.

Data, data, everywhere 

IT services grew organically at UNC Charlotte over the years. Eventually, computing operations were dispersed across multiple physical locations and often lacked standardization. A particular academic department might successfully house hundreds of servers, but sometimes without backup or emergency power supply. Increasingly, dispersed IT operations posed challenges to access, performance and security. 

On the Enterprise side, a small data center on campus was backed up by a third-party host more than 100 miles away. By 2015, the physical distance between centers resulted in service delays, and on-campus spaces designated as but not designed for data center use served as disaster recovery stopgaps. The University needed a plan to ensure the future IT infrastructure could support delivering the best possible services to students, faculty and staff. 

Opportunities for progress

By 2018, the science building construction required a utility structure to supply heating, cooling and power to a section of campus. A 3,000 square-foot data center was built adjacent to the utility building to leverage the new science building's investments. 

In June 2020, after three years of planning, the University established a new Office of OneIT to streamline information technology services. As part of the plan, distributed IT operations could be evaluated for best practices in an enterprise setting. By December, OneIT began moving critical infrastructure to the new data center.

A new home for critical data

Equipped with 1,700 kilowatts of power and cooling, the new data center is now the nucleus for data vital to UNC Charlotte’s operations. The center operates at 100 Gigabit connectivity, with redundant connections to the existing data center on campus. Data between centers is mirrored in real-time, allowing OneIT to fail services quickly from one center to the other in the case of a disaster or even for day-to-day server maintenance. This setup minimizes the potential for interruptions to the University community of nearly 35,000. 

The data center contains a single pod of server racks divided into two rows of 16 for hot-aisle containment, a system designed to reduce cooling costs. At about 7.5 feet tall, the pod allows ample vertical space to incorporate another full pod in the future. 

In time, the high-efficiency new data center will allow for the consolidation of additional IT rooms on campus. Not only will this reduce operating costs on energy, cooling and upkeep, but it will also create more space on campus for academic needs. 

Data Center Quick Facts

Over 20,000 linear feet—more than 3.5 miles—of fiber optic cabling was installed to transmit data.

Largest hot-aisle containment data center in the Carolinas for higher education, per Schneider Electric.

More than 10,000 linear feet of wire, equivalent to about 27 football fields, was used to construct the electrical systems.