John Duncan Federal Building
While searching for the oldest Data Aire CRAC units still in service, the Building Project Manager at the John Duncan Federal Building raised his hand. The unit has been servicing the datacenter for a multitude of government agencies for 30 continuous years.
- What difficult circumstances did the CRAC unit endure?
- How did the Data Aire CRAC unit last a remarkable 30 years?
The Extraordinary Long Life of CRAC Equipment in the John Duncan Federal Building
How long can mission critical data center cooling equipment last and still perform the job effectively while handling ever-increasing loads? Traditional CRAC industry wisdom says 10-15 years, and that is more or less (and for better or worse) the accepted norm.
It’s true that some manufacturers have installed units still performing well beyond that 10-15 year “acceptable” time frame – but what about floor-mounted CRAC equipment that has been in continuous service protecting vital U.S. government records for 30 years?
The 30 Year Mission: Cooling for Uncle Sam
Located in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, the John Duncan Federal Building has been home to a wide range of government agencies over the years – including the Social Security Administration, the FBI, the IRS, the ATF, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service. Quite a lineup, indeed.
Currently, the main tenant is the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement – a division of the Department of the Interior. Other tenants are considered classified and can’t be mentioned in this article. 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”.
The Keepers of the Cool
As it turns out, “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 an entire 30 year time period. It also appears that two key members of the H&S Resources team – charged with maintaining and upgrading virtually all aspects of the building – have both worked with the building’s installed Data Aire equipment since the mid 1990s. Clearly they were the perfect people to talk to.
Fortunately, those individuals were available as well as some of the current tenants from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, also referred to as the OSM.
Scott Hawkins of H&S Resources has been the building Project Manager since 2002 – and has worked at the location since 1997. He is essentially 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 John Duncan Federal Building for 23 years, and has held, as he puts it, “too many titles to mention”. He and his team actually maintain the data center cooling units and other equipment throughout the facility.
One of the first questions posed was about performance. After 30 years, one would think things might be getting a bit “creaky” with the units. This was not the case.
“Your average heating and air units last ten years. Fifteen is pushing them to the max. 30 years and still cooling is unheard of. Still running? Still cooling? 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.” — Scott Hawkins
“10 to 15 years would be normal. With proper maintenance through the years, Data Temp units are easy to sustain, and exceed all expectations as far as AC equipment for the computer room. We’ve dealt with other types of units and those things just don’t hold up as well. Obviously, these things run for years… and years.” — Chris Finger
As reliable and solid as Data Aire floor CRAC units are, 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
Regarding replacing the equipment: “We haven’t really considered changing the Data Aire equipment out because it has always run”, Scott explained. “As long as you do the maintenance it’ll last.”
“We just try to 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, the belts, we keep those changed out. That’s about as complicated as it gets to take care of these units.” “We presently maintain just about every name brand”, Chris continued.
“We’ve seen them come and we’ve seen some of them go. I would have to say the Data Temp equipment has been really the most reliable piece of equipment. I’m not just saying that – that’s just the truth.” — Chris Finger
“Retirement” and a New Beginning
At the time of this writing, the CRAC equipment was still up and running; however, in honor of its 30 years of faithful service, Data Aire is partnering with H&S Resources and the John Duncan Federal Building to decommission this Data Temp equipment. What will happen to this faithful servant? It may “live on” in a sense, as a trade show display, and eventually become a permanent display of Data Aire Corporate Headquarters in Orange, CA.
“We’re excited to receive this new unit”, Scott Hawkins enthused. “We have fought many fires before from other units because we have many facilities. And we have many data units. And like I said, 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.”
Or as Scott also put it: “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.”