ITF becomes UI’s first building with top LEED certification

ITF becomes UI’s first building with top LEED certification

The new University of Iowa Information Technology Facility (ITF) became the first building on campus to earn LEED Platinum certification—the ultimate standard for green design. 

The new data center houses and protects computing and network equipment that is vital to the operations of the university and its hospitals and clinics. Completed in late 2011 after three years of construction and seven years of planning, the 43,000-square-foot facility provides a secure and reliable home for the institution's IT systems. 

Its durable outer shell is built to withstand severe weather, and backup electrical and cooling systems are designed to keep essential technology up and running if primary utility systems were to fail. Two 7,200-square-foot data halls meet the electrical, ventilation, and air conditioning requirements for IT equipment and provide space for high-performance research computing.

Data centers are among the most energy-intensive facilities you’ll find on a campus. To build ours to LEED Platinum standards speaks volumes about the UI’s commitment to energy conservation and sustainability,” says UI President Sally Mason. “Our goals for a sustainable university are stated in our strategic plan and 2020 Vision sustainability targets, and this major accomplishment significantly helps to bring those aspirations to reality.”

Sustainable features

The ITF was built with green materials, and 86 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill. Other sustainable aspects include efficient fixtures to cut potable water usage, a bio-retention cell to retain and absorb runoff, a white roof and reflective materials to minimize the “heat island effect,” and ventilation and thermal comfort features that support indoor air quality.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system measures sustainability in site selection, water efficiency, energy sources and consumption, materials and resources, air quality, and other environmental considerations. The ITF is believed to be the first educational institution data center certified as LEED platinum.

Choosing the right equipment

Sustainability was a top priority in the design and construction of the new data center, but the UI took efficiency a step further with a combination of energy-efficient server purchases and server virtualization, which allows multiple systems to share a larger host.

Server virtualization reduces overhead costs and allows for higher utilization of systems. Older server models were replaced by new ones with highly efficient power supplies and Energy Star-rated processors. 

Cutting energy costs

There’s no doubt that building a new data center is a substantial investment at the outset, but we knew that building it with sustainable features was the right thing to do and that it would pay off in the long run,” said Jerry Protheroe, data center manager for ITS.

The UI is already seeing the benefits of these sustainability efforts. At its peak, in January of 2010, the Jessup Hall Data Center used an average of 102 kilowatts (kW) of electrical power. But even as the ITF came online and picked up the full workload of Jessup, including computational growth through the remainder of 2013, its current production power usage (minus research computing) is only 80 kW.

Projections by design consultants on the project indicated that the ITF would use 37% less energy than a building without energy-efficient upgrades, resulting in significant energy savings and contributing to the university’s 2020 energy conservation goals. That’s especially important, considering that ITF has significant capacity for and is the future home to energy-hungry research computing systems. In fact, in the last quarter of 2013, ten high-density research cabinets were installed at ITF with a designed capacity approaching 150 kW total (15 kW per cabinet).

$272,000 rebate from Alliant

In addition to energy savings, the UI earned a rebate from Alliant Energy in the amount of $271,854 for participating in the Commercial New Construction program, which involved collaborating with building designers right from the start to make sure all options for energy savings were analyzed.

The rebate money will help the university drive IT energy conservation efforts to the next level. IT leaders, working with Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability, have put together a data center optimization initiative to encourage units with less efficient data centers tucked in rooms and other data center spaces across campus to utilize the ITF.