A Modern Data Center Is More Than A Big Building

Nov 9, 2016

IT and data company Involta just broke ground on a new facility located just outside of Pittsburgh.
Credit Simeon Berg / Flickr

When Iowa-based IT and data company Involta broke ground last month on a new facility outside of Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just creating the average office building.

Located in Freeport, Armstrong County, the company’s new 40,000-square-foot building is planned to be a high security, high performance data center.

Data centers have one primary goal — making sure customers can access their data, be it healthcare, finance, or technology-related. And in order to accomplish that, center operators have to ensure their systems never fail.

“(It’s) kind of like having, maybe, three cars at your home,” said Involta’s Vice President for strategic marketing Jeff Szymanski.

What he means is that his company’s backup systems are so extensive, they have their own back-up systems – the way a person might keep a second, or third car in case one breaks down.

“Which means we can lose any element from an electrical or a mechanical perspective and still operate it,” Szymanski said.

Involta’s Armstrong County facility, expected to open in September of 2017, will be the company’s 16th center. Involta operates its own hardware for customers and also rents out space in the facility for other companies that want to maintain their own equipment.

Involta will open its 16th data center in September of 2017 in Freeport, PA.
Credit Involta

Designing a modern data center starts with the feeds that come into the building. Multiple Internet providers will service the building to ensure that, even if one fails, a second provider is ready to go. Power lines must feed the building from two or more power systems in case a substation or power plant has a problem.

Data centers around the world are placed into tiers of service by the industry standardization group Uptime Institute. A Tier III center must be operational 99.982 percent of the time and have robust back-up systems. That means it can only go down for a total of 1.6 hours in a year. Involta is aiming for Tier IV designation, which is even higher.

Once it opens, the building in Freeport will draw power equal to that of 500 homes. Consuming that much power in a space smaller than a football field generates a massive amount of heat, which means targeted cooling systems must be deployed throughout the building. Those also have redundant back-ups because when the temperature rises, electronics start to fail.

The security combines both in-person measures like biometrics, as well as layer upon layer of cyber security protections in modern data centers.

While many companies rely on third-party data centers like Involta’s, some still take a hands on approach. Pittsburgh-based HM Health Solutions runs its own data center in Harrisburg. The company spun out of Highmark in 2014 and works with the health care provider and other insurance companies to support data management operations. Brian Smith, director of data center operations, said for companies that need to have 24-7 access to their data and their customers, you cannot have any downtime.

“When systems are not available you lose productivity … and if you don’t have that system available to (customers) you are just doing them a huge disservice,” he said.

In this week's Tech Headlines:

  • Researchers who want to comb through the massive amounts of data in The Cancer Genome Atlas have a new free tool named TCGA Expedition thanks to a team from the University of PittsburghUPMC and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Pitt School of Medicine professor Rebecca Jacobson said the goal is to make large data sets available to the average researcher who would not otherwise be able to access the information. Developers said the new software continuously downloads, processes and manages the data.
  • A Samsung phone user in France said her Galaxy J5 smartphone caught fire and exploded over the weekend. The model is different from the Galaxy Note 7 that has been recalled worldwide. The user told The Associated Press she noticed the phone was very hot and later realized it had "swollen up" and  was smoking. Experts say the problem was probably an isolated incident. Samsung did not immediately comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.