Thirty Years Of Protecting Records

The long life of CRAC equipment in a federal building surpasses expectations.

The John Duncan Federal Building in downtown Knoxville, TN, has been home to a wide range of government agencies over the years.

Traditional industry wisdom says data-center cooling (CRAC) equipment will last and still perform effectively for 10 to 15 years. But floor-mounted CRAC equipment has been in continuous service protecting vital U.S. government records for 30 years at the John Duncan Federal Building in downtown Knoxville, TN. It is just now being replaced.

The federal building has been home to a wide range of government agencies over the years, including the Social Security Administration, FBI, IRS, ATF, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Secret Service.

Currently, the primary tenant is the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), a division of the Department of the Interior. Other tenants are considered classified. In other words, this is an important place with important electronic records. Needless to say, the physical and data security is what most would consider tight.

Keepers of the Cool

Data Aire, Orange, CA, Data Temp series floor-mounted CRAC equipment, installed in 1987, has been cooling the data-center servers and related equipment pretty much without a hiccup for a 30-year time period. Two key members of the H&S Resources, Columbia, MD, team charged with maintaining and upgrading virtually all aspects of the building have worked with the building’s installed Data Aire equipment since the mid 1990’s.

Scott Hawkins of H&S Resources has been the building project manager since 2002 and has worked at the location since 1997. He is in charge of all operations and maintenance pertaining to the grounds, housekeeping, or the facility in general.

Chris Finger, chief engineer of H&S Resources, has worked at the federal building for 23 years and has held, as he puts it, “too many titles to mention.” He and his team maintain the data-center cooling units and other equipment throughout the facility.

After 30 years, one would think things might be getting a bit creaky with the units. This is not the case.

“Your average heating and air units last 10 years. Fifteen is pushing them to the max. Thirty years and still cooling is unheard of. The agency doesn’t call us. We’re not getting alarms on our phones saying, ‘Hey, I’m hot.’ ‘Humidity’s out of whack,’ Data Aire units do their jobs correctly today just like they were designed to do 30 years ago,” said Hawkins.

Data Aire CRAC equipment, installed in 1987, has been cooling the data center servers and related equipment for 30 years.

Above and Beyond

Over the years the CRAC equipment at the John Duncan Federal Building has been put through some extreme conditions. For a period of time the government, in an attempt to manage energy usage, mandated that almost the entire facility, including the main air-conditioning system, be shut down at night during the summer months. This caused areas surrounding the data center to become very hot, with temperatures reaching into the 90s and 100s on the upper floors, which is extremely detrimental for environmental-control equipment.

Chris Finger recalled, “The environment around the server room became extremely hot. The server room is not completely sealed off from the hot areas, yet the Data Aire equipment maintained the temperature at an acceptable level. Even under those conditions, the units performed well. Since I’ve been here, the load has increased, but the units have continued to perform and keep that area satisfied.”

Daniel Lewis, a longtime IT specialist for the OSM concurred. “Thus far, we haven’t had any cooling issues. There are no worries, and I’m grabbing my coat to keep warm. As far as our data is concerned, obviously, there’s been some evolution over the years going on in that area, but the consistent things in the server room are the cooling units that have been very reliable for us.”

Safe Data

Lewis and others at OSM clearly know what mission critical really means and how important the mission was and still is. Tom Haywood, administrative officer for OSM, oversees daily operations of the building on the administration side and wears many hats, including purchasing agent, safety officer, physical security officer, and records management. He has worked at the facility for 8 years.

“The records that we maintain and the servers, all the data and historical, archived records, are crucial,”Haywood said emphatically. “I mean, we have vital records that track history. So preserving the integrity of those records within our electronic filing system and server units is key for the nation’s interest and that of the public.”

Haywood added, “We’ve got official federal records in there. It has to be temperature controlled to maintain proficiency and efficiency to transfer that data in and out. We have numerous locations across the nation that feed into and out of that server. If something goes down with those records, we’re dead in the water electronically. The Data Aire equipment allows us to maintain a comprehensive electronic filing system, including emails and documents, essentially all of our electronic records.”

Daniel Lewis also noted that in addition to preventing data-center equipment failure, the proper temperature also enhances data-center server performance. “Timing is critical as far as our data is concerned. When a user sits down behind their desk, they want immediate response, and our equipment has to meet certain standards in order to be able to serve our users quickly. We have to have that data there and available at all costs.”

On Maintenance

As reliable and solid as equipment may be, 30 years of virtually trouble-free service doesn’t happen by accident. An extremely dedicated team that takes a lot of pride in their work makes a difference.

“Basically, like any piece of equipment that is critical to the facility/agency, that unit is checked every morning and every evening. That piece of equipment is critical, because if the servers get hot and shut down, then the agency shuts down,” Scott Hawkins said. “We maintain things on a daily basis. We believe in proactivity. We don’t believe in fighting fires, so it’s important to check your equipment on a daily basis, monthly basis, and then also do your annuals. Of course, we keep the belts changed out. That’s about as complicated as it gets to take care of these units.”

What will happen to old CRAC equipment after 30 years of faithful service? It may live on as a trade show display and eventually become a permanent display at Data Aire corporate headquarters in Orange, CA.

“We’re excited to receive [this] new unit,” Scott Hawkins said. “We have fought many fires before from other units because we have many facilities. And we have many data units. Data Aire has given us the least amount of trouble of any of the units that we have. And that’s gospel. That’s truth. I’m guessing that the new Data Aire equipment is built like the old equipment, so it should make it until my retirement. That’s what I’m looking for,” he said.


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