Penn expands beyond banks of Schuylkill for new data center


A new data center will cost the University $21 million to construct


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With demand for technology on the rise, Penn’s data storage facilities are getting an upgrade.

The Board of Trustees recently approved plans to build a combined data center for the University and health system. The new 16,500 square foot facility will be housed in the former DuPont Marshall Research Lab, a 25-acre property located at the South Bank on 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue.

The $13 million purchase of the property — which marks Penn’s first “significant expansion across the Schuylkill River” — was a rare opportunity to “acquire something of this scale that has usable buildings and infrastructure,” according to Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli.

“Penn has a long range for improving the physical character of its urban campus and surrounding community, which takes a long time and requires many small individual pieces to be orchestrated for overall impact,” he wrote in an email. “That is why we have our campus plan Penn Connects, and why the acquisition of the former Marshall DuPont labs fits so nicely into the long range vision.”

Building plans for the new data center — which is expected to cost around $21 million — will focus on “what we can do to take advantage of the latest designs which are geared toward sustainability, reducing power utilization and using it more efficiently,” explained Ray Davis, executive director of systems engineering and operations.

The current University Data Center at 3401 Walnut Street — which has 5,800 square feet of server space — “works well today but isn’t going to meet our needs in the future,” Information Systems and Computing Vice President Robin Beck said, adding that in order to lower costs and use power efficiently, “we really need to get data centers out of the university buildings.” Almost every school at Penn currently has its own data center in an academic building, taking up around 23,000 square feet — the size of roughly 77 classrooms — across the University.

Beck added that the relocation to the South Bank is the most cost effective option for Penn, and will lower the University’s electrical power consumption and allow for the use of modern cooling methods to avoid damage to the equipment.

Growing demand for data is in part driven by an increase in electronic device usage, especially as new mobile applications are being developed, Beck said.

“All of us are using more and more technology, and data centers … have to become stronger and more powerful and more available,” she said.

Penn’s peer institutions have also been exploring their options for revamping data storage. For instance, Princeton University completed building its data center last year, while Stanford University is currently in the process of combining its administrative and computing systems into one facility.

Chris Mustazza, director of Social Sciences Computing and Student Technology, believes that trends in modern computing, such as cloud computing and server virtualization, have decreased the amount of hardware needed to provide services. However, he added, certain types of hardware systems, as well as data privacy concerns, will require that some data still be housed on campus.

“I think you will see the landscape change over time to take more advantage of cloud systems, but we will need space to host local hardware for the foreseeable future,” he wrote in an email. “The new data center will be a much more optimal solution to house this local hardware than doing so in central buildings.”

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