by StorageReview Enterprise Lab

EMC Durham Center Of Excellence Overview

The EMC Durham Center Of Excellence is a massive 450,000 square foot facility located in Durham, North Carolina. The Center Of Excellence (COE) serves a few purposes for EMC. The COE serves as a state of the art, highly virtualized cloud data center support over 60,000 EMC employees all over the world. Over 130,000 square feet of the COE are dedicated to research and development labs. And the COE demonstrates cloud computing and delivering IT as a Service (ITaaS). The StorageReview team stopped by to get a deeper dive into all of this and more that goes on in Durham.

First announced in 2011, the Durham COE was EMC’s seventh COE globally, they have other COEs in Ireland, China, Egypt, Russia, India, and Israel. The COE serve essential functions for EMC such as engineering and research and development, customer service, translation services, IT and technical support, and customer executive briefings. The Durham COE was built as EMC began to transition from physical infrastructure to virtualized infrastructure in 2004. The Durham COE, more specifically its data center, help to accelerate EMC’s own journey into cloud computing. The data center leverages not only EMC products such as VMAX, VPLEX, and VNX, it also uses VMware vSphere virtualization and cloud infrastructure platform running on VCE’s Vblock. The COE operates as a tier 3 data center with both 2N and N+1 redundancy (A/B power feeds are 2N and the flywheels, generators, air handlers, and chillers are N+1). Initially EMC planned on hosting 350 applications and 6PB of data at the COE.

As mentioned above, 130,000 square feet of the COE facility is dedicated to research and development and serves as a showcase for EMC customers. EMC gives tours, similar to the one we took while on site, to show and explain its current and upcoming technology. EMC also shares its IT and cloud computing best practices as well as a cloud demo proof-of-concept. The segment of space seen above is for EMC's own consumption, acting in tandem with the Boston-area data center. Less than 50 people within EMC have secure access to this room.

EMC has been named by Newsweek as the 43rd greenest company in world and it takes this title seriously as it designed the Durham COE. The facility has earned a LEED gold certification (the second highest certification a building can receive based off of its energy efficiency and sustainability). EMC did the usual things for LEED certification such as reusing a preexisting site (in this case an old warehouse), the material used for construction was a combination of recycled (10%) and locally sourced (20%) with 50% of the construction waste being diverted from landfills, and EMC reduce the COE’s water consumption by 40% by harvesting rainwater.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the energy savings comes from the data center itself. Touring the mechanical layout of the EMC Durham data center, we were shown how EMC handles hot and cold air. Hot air is drawn up out of the data center through a large drop ceiling, while cooler air is pumped in from below. Depending on the outside environment, EMC can recycle air from within the building, or pull in fresh air to reduce cooling costs when the weather is optimal. When outside air is drawn in, it flows through large filtration rooms to make sure it is clean before hitting the data center.

The data center is built on a 3-foot raised floor that enables an under-floor air distribution and cooling system possible. EMC using cold aisle containment for temperature regulation on its data center floor and it utilizes air-intake plenums at the perimeter of the building giving it free air-cooling for 57% of the year. Cold aisle containment is slightly different than just piping in cold air between server racks and drawing the hot air out of the room. Two rows of servers face one another in an enclosured structure, where cold air passes up through the floor at the center, is drawn through the servers or storage arrays and is blown out into the open data center. This design only pushes cold air into areas where it is needed, instead of mixing with hot exhaust and flowing back into the air returns wastefully.

EMC also eliminated the need for batteries in its UPS by using flywheel technology that produces 675kW of energy. During our tour, our guides were quick to point out that the only batteries needed to operate the equipment inside the data center were a small stack seen off in one corner used to control some of the switchboards.

This is dramtically different than the way most data centers operate, where UPS designs leverage lead-acid batteries which provide hold-up power in the event of a power outage, to keep equipment running long enough for standby generators to come online. The VYCON flywheel UPS models leveraged by EMC require nearly no major maintence over their lengthy 20 year lifespan, consume much less space than the equivilant sized lead-acid UPS systems and can operate in a much wider range of operating temperatures.

The Durham data center serves as part of EMC's distributed data center network, supplementing the other facility near Boston. Beyond running EMC's internal applications, the majority of the data center is geared toward customer validations, quality assurance testing, integrated solutions development (think surveillance, reference architectures, etc.) and so on. The building itslef has plenty of room to expand and is flexibile enough to take advantage of new best practices for data center operations over time. Overall the facility is quite impressive, offering a comprehensive set of competencies for EMC, their partners and customers.

Durham Center Of Excellence

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