08 October 2021
Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums division (GLAM) forms one of the greatest concentrations of university collections in the world. GLAM holds over 21 million objects, specimens and printed items, constituting one of the largest and most significant collections in the world.
Faced with the challenges of increased data demand, the Museum of Natural History – one of the museums within GLAM – wanted to upgrade its IT infrastructure to house core network switches, responsible for running the services. A major rewiring project was undertaken with the aim of significantly improving the data connectivity for computers, phones and next generation devices.
The wiring presented a challenge in itself as the historically significant listed building was not best designed to accommodate the space for conventional hardware. This required ingenious methods to work with the fabric of the building.
Faced with these challenges, Anjanesh Babu the technical project lead in the GLAM IT team, researched options available. The traditional approach was for the designated network core of a building to be stripped bare and rebuilt with air conditioning and electrics to meet the requirements for the equipment. However, given the nature of the building, this would present a number of challenges, including space and cooling loss through the surfaces.
Anjanesh Babu, technical lead for the project, approached Rittal’s IT team who quickly identified the “Data Centre in a Box” (DCiB) concept as a possible option. DCiB replicates the key data centre capabilities but on a smaller scale and has been developed to enable equipment to be deployed in non-traditional Data Centre environments. The turnkey package concept provides IT Racks, demand-orientated climate control, PDU, monitoring and fire suppression. It provides a complete solution from product selection, through to installation and ongoing maintenance. When installed in the Museum of Natural History, the cooling footprint would be significantly lower than the traditional full-room air conditioning and the absence of any work to the space to accommodate the system would mean that the building would remain relatively untouched.
A site visit by Joel Farrington, Rittal’s area sales manager for IT was arranged, and the requirements gathered. “The system was to be located in the museum’s basement which had restricted access with very narrow staircase & doorways. In addition to this, the building’s listed status would mean that any cooling equipment would have to be positioned cleverly and with the utmost consideration, not only to aesthetic but to any noise pollution emitted” recalls Farrington.
Joel and members of the Rittal IT development team, Clive Partridge and Andrew Wreford, worked with Anjanesh Babu to identify key areas that needed to be achieved. “Given the kW loads & environment of the proposed location, it became clear that the DCiB’s LCU option was the best way to go, and we quickly built up a package including racks, accessories, cooling, fire suppression, PDUs & monitoring. To mitigate the access restrictions, we used the ‘rack splitting / re-joining’ service which enabled us to resolve the challenge of space limitations of the project” says Rittal’s technical IT manager, Clive Partridge.
Rittal provided an end-to-end solution from the manufacture of kit, to the installation, commissioning & hand-over. To overcome the issues with the listed building status, Rittal’s IT team worked in collaboration with Babu and the lead contractor, Monard Electrical, to find a suitable home for the condenser.
Technical project lead from GLAM, Anjanesh Babu, reflected on the options deployed: “RIttal’s DCiB allowed the museum to utilise the proposed location without having to make costly building modifications, thus saving time, energy and effort.”
By adopting “in-rack” precision cooling instead of “in-room” cooling, the location is more environmentally efficient and this controls operational expenditure. Cooling via the high-performance LCU option provides temperature consistency, allows better care of their equipment along with nearly silent operations.
Not only is the installation providing energy efficiency and longevity for the museum, there is the added benefit of noise reduction in the room compared to an existing server room utilising in-room cooling.
Haas Ezzet, head of IT GLAM at the University of Oxford, contextualises this piece of work as being part of the “Museum’s drive towards greater environmental sustainability. The approach piloted here, of focussing climate control specifically to the area needed, the data cabinet, rather than the entire space in which it is house, will optimise energy consumption and afford a blueprint for other spaces within GLAM and beyond.”