Syracuse data center goes green with fiber

Sept. 1, 2011
As one of the nation's leading private universities and research centers, Syracuse University knows the value of conserving energy ...

Preterminated fiber-optic systems helped immediately through quick setup, and long-term through increased density.

By Andrew O'Brien and the staff of Corning Cable Systems

As one of the nation's leading private universities and research centers, Syracuse University knows the value of conserving energy in all its operations–from dormitories to data centers. So it was no surprise that when upgrading the university's data center and networking capabilities, energy conservation was a prime consideration.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, data centers consumed 62 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, costing $4.5 billion, in 2007. That is the amount used by 5.8 million U.S. households. To take the lead in creating a greener data center solution, James Pampinella, manager of network and wiring services for the school's information and technology and services (ITS) group, explains how innovators like its cabling supplier, Corning Cable Systems, played a role.

James Pampinella, manager of network and wiring services for Syracuse University's information and technology and services group, accesses one of the connector housings in the university's new data center.

"The university wanted to work with a team who would take an interest in not just building a state-of-the-art data center, but a showcase for what a sustainable data center design would look like," says Pampinella. "We happen to have a long history of working with Corning Cable Systems, and their history of innovation made them a valuable part of our team."

Planning for green

In 2008 the ITS group began planning a new data center as an alternative to the computer clusters then operating in various research centers across campus. Also, existing computing, storage and network equipment email services, as well as network switches, were being housed in Machinery Hall, which was built in 1907.

"To rehab Machinery Hall would cost as much as building a new data center," Pampinella says. "It was more worthwhile to invest in a state-of-the-art central computing environment and, at the same time, build an infrastructure that could increase network throughput. We wanted to upgrade our uplinks to distribution points to 10G and have the ability to serve other areas at 40G and 100G. Corning's optical fiber solution is an integral part of that infrastructure."

It was clear to the planning team that their state-of-the-art data center would be designed with green in mind. To save energy, plans called for a $12.4-million, 12,000-square-foot facility that employs an on-site trigeneration system using natural-gas-fueled micro turbines to generate all the necessary electricity for the center, as well as provide cooling for the computer servers. With the tri-gen system, the data center could unplug from the electrical grid.

Instrumented for infrastructure insight

The ITS group leverages a broad array of sensor tools to measure practically every environmental and performance variable. Air velocity, air temperature, water-flow rates, voltage, current, network throughput and more variables are measured. This advanced instrumentation covers the center's core data services mission and makes the green data center a living test bed in which to try various energy-saving technologies and optimize them in real time.

For example, newly designed server racks with "cooling doors" use chilled water to remove heat from each rack without the need for electricity-using fans. The racks also employ space-saving cabinets that use fewer resources and less floor space than other options; conserving data center space is both an operational and environmental long-term goal for the ITS group.

These EDGE-04U connector housings double the industry-standard density by accommodating as many as 576 fibers in a 4U space.

"Late in the planning process, we learned that Corning Cable Systems had just released Pretium EDGE Solutions," Pampinella says. "The data center was designed for up to 80 equipment racks, so this solution really appealed to us because it saved space by allowing us to consolidate terminations in a smaller footprint."

Pretium EDGE Solutions consist of optical trunks, harnesses, modules, housings and jumpers, all characterized by a reduced size that is enabled by using the improved bend-resistance of Corning's ClearCurve optical fiber. This solution was ideal for handling the data center's high-density design. The EDGE-04U connector housings used allow for capacity as high as 576 fibers, doubling the industry standard density of 288 fibers in a 4U space. These high-density housings saved space in cabinets and frames.

The ClearCurve multimode cables save space, thanks to a bend radius that is just five times the outside cable diameter–half the diameter of traditional cable. Compared to traditional cable, the Pretium EDGE trunk cables are 30 percent smaller, and allow for 50 percent more cables to be run in a cable tray. The trunk cables also use the MTP connector, a 12-fiber push/pull optical connector with a footprint similar to an SC simplex connector, which also saves space.

"As an example of the space savings, in our South Campus network room, I have a rack-and-a-half of fiber terminations," notes Pampinella. "With Pretium EDGE Solutions, I put the entire South Campus fiber plant into two housings that are 8U high. That is just one-quarter of a rack. This small footprint gives me a lot more space in the rack. At endpoints where I have servers, there is a lot more room in the rack to install servers."

Fast-paced design and installation

After the planning was finalized, Syracuse University broke ground in May 2009 and finished in December 2009. Within the footprint of the data center, for the network and storage system, there are 1,500 strands of fiber, some singlemode but mainly laser-optimized 50-µm multimode for 10G and server interconnects–an ambitious installation within a tight timeframe.

The ITS team was able to meet this ambitious goal in part because of several Pretium EDGE Solutions design features that enable up to 35 percent faster installation than other methods. Features such as new zippered pulling grips, modules that can be installed from either the front or rear of housings, and snap-on trunk cradles that provided integrated cable strain relief made it possible for the ITS group personnel, including Pampinella, to handle the entire installation themselves.

"There was no complexity to it at all," he says. "My people were outfitting racks faster than I anticipated, and way faster than if we had to do field termination. Using a preterminated, packaged system like Pretium EDGE Solutions is so much easier, I wish I could use them in installations throughout the university–and hopefully someday in the future, that will happen."

Pretium EDGE Solutions products are wrapped in recyclable materials, which was a nice bonus for Syracuse University's "green" efforts during its data center construction.

According to Pampinella, the premanufactured modular platform also offered waste-reduction advantages, which were an added bonus for the project's "green" goals. "Normally fiber comes on wooden reels," he states. "The Pretium EDGE Solutions products were wrapped in plastic and cardboard, which was recyclable. Given the amount of material that we ordered–housings and modules–we saved so much on packaging and trash. In fact, 99 percent of the construction waste for this project was recycled, which is important when designing with LEED green-building principles."

Corning also provided online tools that Pampinella needed to identify and order the Pretium EDGE Solutions components, as well as support from sales engineers–support that Pampinella said Syracuse has always received from Corning and a reason the university values the multi-decade relationship so highly.

"There was ample information on the new products; everybody at Corning was very helpful, and the tools made it easy for me to order the trunks and other components that I needed," he says. "And Corning was able to expedite our orders and supply us with the components we needed to keep on track."

Green for the future

The performance of the Pretium EDGE Solutions cabling platform, in terms of convenience, space savings and efficient installation, will enable the green data center to grow and continue to satisfy new, more multi-gigabit applications and throughput requirements from across the university. As one of the first data centers in the country to use Corning's new Pretium EDGE Solutions, the ITS group was happy to be able to use cutting-edge fiber technology and trusted that it would deliver the promised benefits.

Pampinella concluded, "I was confident that, looking back on our past history with Corning and the technology they've provided us, we were buying a solution that would be adaptable and serve the growing demand we expect well into the future.

"Just six months from groundbreaking to commissioning–pretty incredible for a data center. Every step of the way, Corning was with us. We've been working with them for nearly 20 years, but for the new data center, they demonstrated how their new Pretium EDGE Solutions would work in an application far beyond state-of-the-art. It saved space and time to install and set up, and will make changes and adds easy in the future."

Andrew O'Brien is a sales engineer with Corning Cable Systems ( Other members of the Corning Cable Systems staff also contributed to this article.

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