From the outside, Information Systems and Computing’s new data center, which sits on Penn’s newly acquired South Bank campus east of the Schuylkill River, may seem nondescript, but the old windowless brick building is protected by state-of-the-art security systems.
There are three different keycard-swipe doors before the dozens of servers and terabytes of computer storage, cameras inside and out and a “shrieking” alarm, should anyone manage to get in. Sensitive floor sensors trip an alarm if any leak or water should get into the room, and a sticky doormat removes dust from the shoes of people who enter.
“Security is very important for us,” Donna Manley, IT senior director for Informations Systems and Computing, said, gesturing to the bank-vault-like doors and surveillance.
ISC has only used the 2,500-square-foot space, part of the 23-acre South Bank property which Penn plans to transform into an entrepreneurial hub, since June of this year. For the past year and a half, the agency had been looking for room to expand their data storage and processing facilities. “We watch capacity very carefully,” Manley said. “We knew we were reaching a point where we’d have to evaluate our options.”
Luckily, the building was tenant-less and ISC was able to secure space easily. As of now, they are still one of only two tenants — the other uses some of the ground floor for furniture storage.
The actual facility consists of only a few rooms. One battery and power room, one fire control room and the main room, where the server racks are stored. Currently, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Veterinary School are the only clients ISC has in this space, though they are interested in attracting more both in and out of the University.
“As long we have the space we need for our Penn clients, we’re keeping our options open,” Manley said about the non-Penn clients using the data center.
The main server room, which was designed in collaboration with ISC, Facilities and Real Estate Services and an outside firm, Bala Consulting Engineers, is a marvel of modern cooling. Since these server racks output so much heat, the room has its own large air conditioning unit, which calculates when and where to apply cool air. Climate control is a key factor in attracting clients, Manley says.
This equipment also lets ISC attend to the building remotely — no workers occupy the space, leaving the building with its cinderblock walls and twisting halls empty. But clients can come and go as they will. “The nice thing about this space is that the clients manage all their own equipment,” Manley said.
The data center is one of a few early ventures into the South Bank campus, which Penn acquired from the DuPont Company in 2010. Business Services, through Penn Transit, operates some offices and a garage there, and Penn Vet’s working dog center is located there as well. The South Bank will also be home to the Pennovation center — which Penn plans as a destination for students and professors to find applications for their research.
“We certainly have a lot of growth space,” Manley said. “We are hoping that [the space] will last for several more years.”