supaTsela rolls out new facilities

04 January 2006

As part of the supaTsela ICT renewal project, UCT has spent more than R3.5-million setting up two new data centres.

These data centres - part of the new infrastructure design - will house UCT's critical ICT systems and services. As well as new computer equipment, the data centres will include generators, sophisticated air-conditioning, fire-suppression systems and automated monitoring, all in a state-of-the-art infrastructure.

UCT's computer rooms

Previously, UCT did not have data centres, but rather had two computer rooms - located in the Computer Science and Bremner buildings.

The Computer Science computer room was built in 1972 to house mainframe equipment. Over the years, considerable effort was put into maintaining and upgrading the facility, but by 2003, Information & Communication Technology Services (ICTS) recognised that the computer room had reached the end of its useful life.

Problems included outdated and failing air-conditioning systems, faulty alarms, an ageing fire-prevention system using poisonous CO2 gas, lack of under-floor airflow that gave rise to temperature variations, no standby generators and an old-fashioned uninterrupted power supply (UPS), undocumented electrical reticulation, and no cable management.

UCT's new data centres

In UCT's vision for future ICT services, modern and high-tech data centres play a critical role. With the introduction of up-to-date data centres, services will be housed in suitably secured, controlled physical environments that will enable improved availability and recoverability.

According to André le Roux, who is managing the data centre project: "The vision behind the new data centres encompasses three main aspects: an improved physical environment, which meets industry standards and requirements; management of the physical environment; and automated monitoring systems."

Some of the improvements that may be of interest, are:

  • Backup power: The new data centres have electrical generators, which ensure that servers and network equipment in the data centres stay online in the event of a power failure. This allows users in other, non-affected areas to access UCT's ICT services. It also reduces the risk of server hardware damage and avoids lengthy start-up procedures after power failures. The generators provide electricity for up to eight hours before requiring refuelling, a vast improvement on the mere 20 minutes backup power that was possible with the old UPS. Recently, during Eskom's "load-shedding" blackouts, the new generators were used to keep major servers and network equipment running.

  • Automatic monitoring systems: An automatic monitoring system, which sends SMS alerts to key staff members, allows ICTS to monitor and provide quick response to aspects of the data centres, such as access, temperature and condensation.

  • Floors: Working to stringent specifications, stronger floors were fitted. The importance of strong floors cannot be underestimated, as the new equipment is both expensive and heavy (for example, the PeopleSoft production system alone weighs 550kg). The floors are raised, allowing for proper air circulation and ventilation.

  • Active - Active Data Centres: UCT is moving to an active - active data centre model where both the upper campus and Bremner data centres are active. This is in contrast to the previous system where only the upper campus computer room was active, and the Bremner room was used mainly for disaster recovery.

    The active - active data centre model splits services across the data centres allowing for "clustering" and "load balancing". Benefits are increased performance and preservation of services. For instance, if a disaster strikes one of the data centres, certain selected critical services (eg e-mail) would fall over to the other, unaffected, data centre. This new model will facilitate improved efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Moving to the new data centres

For the past year, ICTS and Properties & Services have been renewing the data centres. The Bremner Data Centre started hosting some ICT services in February 2006, while the Upper Campus Data Centre was completed in March 2006. A new fibre-optic cable connects the two sites.

However, most production equipment is still located in the old computer rooms, and needs to be moved to the new facilities. This will cause some disruption to ICT services.

To minimise the impact of any downtime required, the process of moving from the old computer rooms to the new data centres will be done outside of working hours.

The new state-of-the-art data centres go a long way towards providing a platform from which UCT's ICT capabilities can grow to meet the challenges of the new millennium.

For more information on the ICT renewal project, go to

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.