A New Data Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)

Manchester Metropolitan University has introduced a new high density data centre as part of a dual strategy to improve the reliability of IT services and reduce their environmental impact.


Situated close to the city centre, Manchester Metropolitan University has a history dating back 150 years. It was awarded university status in 1992 and today is the largest campus-based undergraduate university in the UK with a total student population of more than 37,000.

Sustainability is an important aspect of the University’s operations. In 2007–8 MMU’s carbon footprint from gas, electricity and business travel was 24,797 tonnes, which cost £4.6 million. By implementing a series of dramatic changes, the University is on target to reduce its carbon footprint to 15,600 tonnes, saving £3.8 million annually.

The University has recently completed the second phase of its new All Saints primary data centre. As a large consumer of energy, a strategy was developed to reduce the operating cost of providing IT services which ranged from implementing power management software for staff PCs to consolidating communications rooms, server rooms and data centre facilities.

“As the greenest university in UK league tables, it’s important that everybody contributes to the sustainability agenda at MMU, and the data centre is an obvious opportunity” says James Woodward, IT Client Services Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Our consolidation strategy was aimed to improve the efficiency and availability of the data centre, as well as increase capacity utilisation over the lifecycle of the new facility.”

Jeff Hall, IT Service Operations Officer at MMU said, “All IT services pass through the primary data centre. At the end of a two-year programme, our ultimate goal is to use two high density data centres to provide a fully managed, active: solution which can facilitate growth as well as allow the introduction of new services, as they are required.”

Other Challenges and Issues

The customers of the data centre are the numerous departments and faculties, from HR and Finance to Science and Engineering. Services are required on a 24/7 basis so any breaks in continuity may negatively impact the student experience and as a consequence, the University’s reputation. “All voice and data services pass through the primary data centre, so everything is lost in the event of an outage,” said Jeff Hall.

Prior to commencing the consolidation strategy, IT services were provisioned through myriad server rooms and small data centres spread around the campus. “Ensuring adequate power and cooling for the IT equipment had proven to be a challenge,” continued Hall, “especially as there were issues with ‘dirty’ mains.”

Building a business case

Investment for the new data centre was provided by Salix Finance Ltd, a not-for-profit company funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Welsh and Scottish Governments which provides 100% interest-free capital to the public sector to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon emissions.

In order to access the development funding, James Woodward and his team first had to audit the energy consumption of the ad-hoc server rooms, including lighting, cooling and powering the equipment. Actual energy use was compared with that forecast after consolidation to make a strong case for the project, achieving a return on investment well within the 5-year period specified in Salix’s terms.

In addition, it was also decided to locate the new data centre within an existing space on the campus. This not only saved the cost of a new building, but also reduced the emissions associated with demolition and removal of old buildings. The room chosen had previously served to house the campus PABX and was of sufficient size to accommodate the new infrastructure once the old equipment was decommissioned and the BT frames removed.

Selecting Schneider Electric and APT

“We’d had experience of Schneider Electric and Elite Partners, APT when we replaced a UPS in our old data centre. Before making a decision regarding the new primary data centre, we did our own research, downloaded white papers and read case studies. We visited other installations and discussed the experience of other users. We also invited other solutions and ran a full tender before finalising on APC InfraStruxure with Hot Aisle Containment System (HACS), together with StruxureWare for Data Centers Software,” said James Woodward.

“Recommendations played a part in our selection process,” said Jeff Hall. “But we also liked Schneider Electric’s modular architecture. It meant that we could deploy the new data centre using a phased approach; conserving capital and allowing us to keep the infrastructure proportional to the IT requirement. Modularity also gave us options to maximise the space we had selected for the new facility, so that we could deploy a high density environment within our old PABX housing. We effectively built a room within a room.”

That room, built by APT, provides one hour minimum fire and water resistance and includes a raised floor for services. The new 120kW N+1 primary data centre was installed in two phases of nine racks followed by a further sixteen. The HACS enclosure not only increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the cooling solution, but also enables higher density IT to be accommodated than using a traditional perimeter room cooling approach.

The new room’s Symmetra PX UPS has been sized to allow a minimum 15 minutes autonomy for the full designed load in the event of an outage. This provides more than adequate ride through capability to overcome non-blackout power transients, as well as sufficient runtime to allow on-site secondary power generation to come up to speed. The room is also protected by CCTV monitoring and swipe card access that can be extended to individual racks.

“In operations, the use of StruxureWare for Data Centers software enables us to plan the way racks are utilised, and ensure that we have capacity for new service deployments,” said James Woodward. “We can also monitor energy consumption which is helping to ensure the ongoing efficiency and resilience of the data centre”.

In Conclusion

James Woodward said, “Our new primary data centre has had a significant impact on MMU’s carbon footprint, reducing our overall emissions by 4% and taking a big stride towards our target of a 25% reduction. We’re also seeing annual savings in energy costs exceeding 30% at the same time as gaining better control over our data centre capacity utilisation.”

Jeff Hall added, “We set out to consolidate our data centres and increase the efficiency of our operations. We’re well on target to achieve the reduction in energy use and emissions that were forecast as we set out on this strategy. We’re seeing fewer outages as we ensure safe, secure and reliable IT services. The Schneider Electric data centre which APT designed and installed at the University has been crucial to this success.”


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