A New Schneider Electric Data Center for Manchester Metropolitan University

At Data Centre World, I had the opportunity to speak to Jeff Hall, IT Operations Officer at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and John Thompson of APT, a Schneider Electric Elite Partner regarding the installation of a new primary data center at the University. We started by talking about the role that the data center plays at MMU. Jeff explained that the upgrade that’s just been implemented has taken an old fashioned facility that was somewhat past its best, and replaced it with a fantastic, efficient, well planned and designed data center to serve the campus needs.

MMU’s new primary data center houses their unified communications system (UCS) and is central to the smooth running of the entire establishment. If the site were to fail for any reason it would seriously inhibit the organisation’s ability to operate normally. Jeff explained that the University also has a second data center that will be fully refurbished and upgraded during 2014. This will result in key infrastructure being replicated across both facilities, which will give MMU the resilience and business continuity to ensure they can keep operational even if their primary data center was to have a problem.

APT designed, specified and installed the infrastructure for the new primary data center and I asked John Thompson, the company’s Sales Director, if he could talk me through what Schneider Electric equipment had been key to the project. John told me that me the all of the work was done in partnership with MMU and they initially worked to identify space within the estate. Then using Schneider Electric infrastructure they were able to build out a modular data center within that space and really rejuvenate and revitalise what had been an old PABX room with a significant quantity and variety of old equipment. The modular approach allowed APT and MMU to turn the space into a clean and efficient modern data center.

I asked Jeff what pressures they faced during the project. He explained that as well as the PABX, the room had also contained the networking for the entire university. This  meant that there had been thousands of cables routed through the room, all of which had to be audited. During the build it was vital to make sure that in addition to getting the new infrastructure in place, any changes to cabling did not create issues in other parts of the campus.  Jeff told me that the whole project had been a great effort by all involved; both the staff from APT and the MMU team had worked extremely well to limit downtime to just a single weekend for what was a large project.

MMU are also using Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare software as part of the finished data center and I asked Jeff and John how that was helping the University. They explained that MMU started using Data Center Expert and brought all the equipment into that and then worked to roll out Data Center Operations and Capacity applications. They are now also working to include Energy and Change Management as they move forwards. Jeff told me that software is an increasingly important part of how they manage the data center and he said that it had helped them move from a facility that was effectively unaudited to now having software like the Capacity manager that is helping them get the most from their investments.

The university has a theory around change control but now they also have a software system to work with it. The implentation of Data Center Expert has been a great success and has allowed the MMU team to map in all of their communications rooms and UPS systems into one interface, then set up the appropriate alarms to enable 24/7 monitoring of key systems. As they move into using Operations and Capacity Manager, the software is helping to join things up and give MMU a proper system – which is something they’ve been looking for until now. Jeff went on to say that in talking with Schneider Electric engineers they can now see that the sky is the limit with the potential of the software and they can see some great ideas. For example looking at the building management side of it and being able to link that into operations as well. For MMU, DCIM is a really good package and the university has very much bought into it.

For APT as a design and build specialist, I finished by asking John if there were any obstacles that they had to overcome in building the data center. John said that the room was a captive space and that it was very tight to get chilled water and DX, which are both used, into the room. So there were services challenges, but a design was found that delivered an efficient solution. Jeff Hall concurred and said to get free cooling technology into the room was quite a feat, but it was what MMU wanted and was what APT delivered.

A case study for the new data center at MMU is under development and will be published to this site as soon as it’s complete.