After a disembodied voice verifies your appointment through a speaker just outside the Indiana University Data Center, the glass doors unlock with an audible click.
Stepping inside the 90,000-square-foot reinforced concrete bunker designed to withstand the impact of an EF5 tornado, the touch of chilled air and hum of equipment are immediately noticeable.
Completed in 2009, the IU Data Center was constructed as a stand-alone facility designed specifically to house technology. That was in large part due to IU President Michael A. McRobbie, according to data center operations manager Dan Miller, who started working for IU more than four decades ago.
“There’s no comparison with our old center,” he said, referring to the Wrubel Computing Center that was housed at the university’s Cyberinfrastructure Building at 10th Street and the Indiana 45/46 Bypass on the northeast side of the IU Bloomington campus.
“It’s just phenomenal for an institution to have a facility like this. It’s also unique. IU is very fortunate to have a high-performance computing research facility that also includes both administrative and academic systems here, all in one space,” Miller said.
The building is constructed in three pods, which require both an ID card and hand scan to gain access. The first, known as the “Enterprise Pod,” houses the university’s academic and administrative systems, such as email, human resources data and student information systems. The second, known as the “Research Pod,” houses the university’s research and high-performance computing hardware, including the Big Red II and Karst supercomputers. The third is preserved for future growth.
The Enterprise Pod has backups for its electrical and cooling systems, garnering a Tier 3 rating out of four possible tiers from industry-standard Uptime Institute. And if the building ever did lose power, two towering 16-cylinder, 2,200-horse power Cummins diesel backup generators – complete with 10,000-gallon fuel storage tank – would kick on automatically.
There’s a 24-7 Operations Center that keeps an eye on the performance of both the building and equipment inside it. There, a large screen maintains a permanent video link from the Bloomington center to its sister center on the IUPUI campus, housed in the basement of the Informatics and Communications Technology Complex on West Michigan Street in Indianapolis.
Photos by Eric Rudd, IU Communications
The data center also houses technology equipment for regional campuses, myriad university departments and units, and even specific faculty members who might be working under a grant that allowed for the purchase of their own servers or other technology.
Inside the pod housing Big Red II, the university’s main system for high-performance parallel computing, workers often wear earplugs. The drone of the equipment makes it difficult to speak to another person without shouting, and visitors might feel the need to hop over certain vents on the building’s raised floor to avoid the blast of cold air being pumped in to keep the temperature at a technology-friendly 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
What kind of work is being done by the university’s supercomputers? Meet IU East biochemistry professor Yu Kay Law, who has logged 250,000 supercomputer core hours so far this year to run a number of organic compounds, including components that can be found in proteins. Previous to this, he had used the supercomputer to study DNA components.
Big Red II has more than 21,000 cores, working 21,000 times faster than a single-core laptop – meaning it would’ve literally been impossible for Law to conduct his research without the supercomputer.
“An issue for me, actually, is that at my old position I wasn’t able to easily access a supercomputer. So I couldn’t do the research I wanted to do,” he said. “I came to IU, in large part, because of the supercomputing access. And it’s been great. Being on a regional campus, I can access the supercomputer from home, or even check in to make sure things are running on my cell phone.”
Big Red II is a resource for all IU faculty, staff and graduate students, as well as undergraduate and non-IU collaborators with an IU faculty sponsor. Don’t have an account, and believe using IU’s supercomputer or other computing clusters could help your research or special project? Apply for an account through UITS Research Technologies.