Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, May 21, 2012

U-M to unveil new eco-friendly data center

U-M is putting the finishing touches on a new eco-friendly data center, known as the Modular Data Center.

The center, which will host a tour for the campus community June 14, houses high-performance computing equipment in a compact container the size of two boxcars. It also uses outdoor air instead of expensive, industrial air conditioners to cool equipment. The MDC’s innovative design promotes sustainable computing, and U-M is the first university in the nation to build this kind of structure.

University faculty, researchers and staff are invited to an exclusive tour of the new U-M Modular Data Center.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. June 14
2901 Baxter Road, Ann Arbor
(located behind the U-M Transportation Research Institute)
For more information, contact

A traditional data center reuses the hot air generated by the computing equipment; chilling it and then delivering it back into the computing equipment.

“Rather than running what amounts to a very expensive air conditioner all year long, the MDC allows us to essentially open the windows during the colder months, and limit air conditioning to the few months in the summer when we really need it,” says Andy Palms, director of communications systems and data centers at U-M.

In a typical data center, the energy cost for cooling can be twice the cost of power dedicated to computing. The use of ambient air significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the computers. In comparison to a traditional data center like the Michigan Academic Computing Center (MACC), the MDC could potentially save $50,000 per month in energy costs — $600,000 over an entire year.

The MDC is just one of a few different kinds of data centers at U-M. Each data center offers different levels of security and reliability, dependent on the nature of the computing work performed. For example, some data, such as financial or health research, requires high security and reliability (constant monitoring and generator backup in case of power outages). In some cases, the data processing or the data itself is less sensitive and does not require the same costly environment. The MDC is specifically designed to deliver cost effective, high performance computing cycles.

“Expanding our capability for computationally rich research is a priority for the University of Michigan. The MDC helps support the broad range of our research community’s needs, while being mindful of cost and energy efficiencies. It’s an important milestone for the university’s leadership in research, technology, and sustainability,” says Laura Patterson, chief information officer and associate vice president.

The Modular Data Center project was made possible through the joint efforts of Information and Technology Services, the Office of Research Cyberinfrastructure, and Architecture, Engineering and Construction. Capital funding was provided by the Provost’s Office.