Safeguarding Next-Generation Technology

Students at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) are abuzz. Rooms are filled with students learning on the leading edge of technological revolution, thanks to the university’s latest project. MSOE’s newest building is helping to make the university an educational leader in artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, deep learning, cloud computing, and other next-generation technologies.

The $34 million Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall is a 65,000-square-foot facility that provides modern classrooms, innovative laboratories, an auditorium, and spaces to support companies who collaborate with MSOE. A major feature of the facility is a data center, which houses a NVIDIA GPU-powered AI supercomputer. The supercomputer offers undergraduate students the ability to apply their learning in a hands-on environment; they prepare for their careers by computing and solving real-world problems in their course work.
“A supercomputer has no limits,” says Rick Thomas, information technology director at MSOE. “It is very high speed and allows you to do massive amounts of computations all simultaneously, where a normal computer is bound by a processor.” Thomas says for the students at MSOE, this supercomputer provides a unique experience that will help them in their future careers. “We were very fortunate to be able to grow a new program with a supercomputer at the core,” he says. “They are learning how to program to use a supercomputer; it’s learning how to get the results they are looking for and how to not waste time … and all at a higher level that most other schools don’t have access to.”

The supercomputer, “Rosie,” is housed in a state-of-the-art data center on the second floor of Diercks Hall. Rosie’s name was inspired by the women who programmed one of the earliest computers—the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) and captured in the documentary “Top Secret Rosies—The Female Computers of WWII.” More than one hundred of the most advanced NVIDIA GPUs power Rosie. Thomas says one of the most critical pieces to operating a supercomputer is power. “Supercomputer queries often run hours into days,” he says. “Power is absolutely critical for us because if we lose power in the middle, we will have lost that whole bed of work and it all has to be re-set up, re-established, and re-started—and nobody wants that.”

Not only would the data be lost; a loss of power would be catastrophic to the equipment itself, says Dr. Blake Wentz, professor and MSOE’s owner’s representative for the Diercks Hall construction. “If the computer lost power, it would probably overheat and melt,” he says. “The real problem is not the computer shutting off; it’s the air conditioning system shutting off to it. There is roughly $1.5 million worth of equipment in that room. It is very important to make sure the power stays on.” The planners for the facility decided to employ a redundant power solution which uses multiple natural gas units to provide reliability and flexibility while ensuring peace of mind. “We wanted to get the absolute top of the line items we could get, across the board.”

To protect the new investment, MSOE designers determined that a backup generator was needed. In deciding on a specific generator, they considered many aspects of the power needs, including total electrical demand load; this load was estimated at 1550 kilovolt-amperes (kVA), with the total load being placed on the generator at 600 kVA. The major applications that needed to be backed up included the supercomputer standby loads, facility emergency loads, and a 20% growth factor for the facility loads. Another key factor was spacing. The campus is located in a compact metropolitan area, and outdoor space for the generators was limited Keeping all considerations in mind, the MSOE turned to Wolter Power Systems for help. In the end, the system that was recommended included two natural gas standby generators. “Due to the compact nature of the project, a rooftop application was necessary,” says Jason Lelewicz of Wolter Power Systems. “We first needed to make sure we had small, light units for weight distribution on the roof. The area was so compact, traditional cranes could not be used to transport the units to the roof. A specific crane had to be built onsite to handle the installation.” For protection against the elements, the generators have a weatherproof, acoustic enclosure.
Wolter Power specified a Modular Power System (MPS) for redundancy and scalability. Generac’s MPS makes generator paralleling easier by removing the need for traditional switchgear. With integrated paralleling, MSOE can start with a smaller unit to meet their initial power needs and can add on units as their power needs grow. “We have planned for the future of what five or ten years from now would look like,” says Wentz. “There is a pad ready for a third generator that we can add later because if we expand out the supercomputer, the load just keeps getting bigger. But the redundancy to make sure that no matter what happens, the computer was safeguarded; that was important.”

The corresponding electrical distribution is located in a dedicated emergency electrical room in the garage, which is also where the automatic transfer switches are housed. The paralleling electrical distribution feeds four automatic transfer switches serving the fire pump, life safety loads, optional standby facility loads, and optional standby supercomputer loads, respectively. The major life safety systems include the fire alarm systems, door security systems, life safety lighting, and exit signs. The major standby loads include IT rooms on each level, supercomputer loads, and the associated mechanical equipment.

Wentz points out that providing backup power to the supercomputer was important, but not as important as life safety systems. “It is an academic facility,” he says. “There are a lot of students running around, and we really want to make sure that they are safe. In case something were to happen, we want to guarantee that they can get out of the building quickly and safely without any issues.” The backup system is able to guarantee that at least one of the two generators would be serving life safety loads within ten seconds.

MSOE and Generac have had a long-standing relationship, and MSOE representatives say that the relationship is a natural fit. “Our students have a really strong work ethic,” says Jeff Snow, vice president of development at MSOE. “The values that we have as an institution and the values our students graduate with align very well with those of our corporate partners.” Wentz says that this choice was an easy one to make. “The big driving factor for us was simply with this supercomputer and with this building, we were not going to spare any expense,” he says. “We wanted to get the absolute top of the line items we could get across the board for everything.”

Wolter Power is extremely proud to be a part of this project and is pleased to be able to help support the future leaders of our economy. “This was a special project to be a part of,” says Lelewicz. “With the help from Wolter Power, young engineers will have the opportunity to understand and develop new ways to improve data center up time.”

About the Author
Case study supplied by Generac. Generac is a leading energy technology company that provides advanced power grid software solutions, backup and prime power systems for home and industrial applications, solar and battery storage solutions, virtual power plant platforms, and engine- and battery-powered tools and equipment.