Many facets of human existence are focused on driving towards the future and breaking new boundaries. We don’t want to stand still, which is why billions is invested into the latest cutting-edge technologies. While on the one-hand, consumer-facing advancements – for instance in phones, cars, or televisions – are very clear to see, in the background supercomputers and data centres are proving the catalysts for progress.
Out to the East of the Czech Republic is the city of Ostrava, home to the Technická Univerzita Ostrava. The university has been positioned itself as a vanguard for progress, setting up IT4Innovations within the educational establishment, a leading research, development and innovation centre in the field of high-performance computing (HPC), data analysis (HPDA) and artificial intelligence (AI). The centre has the integral role of operating the most powerful supercomputer system in the Czech Republic.
Due to the incredible operating speed of a supercomputer – compared to ‘high-street’ desktops a supercomputer operates around 200,000 times faster at a processing speed of near 10 quadrillion calculations per second – data centres are a necessary accompaniment to store the huge amounts of information generated.
However, this creates a challenge for initiatives like IT4Innovations: data centres produce a vast amount of heat and require cooling at all times to keep them operating at top capacity. To complete a recent extension to its system’s data centre – originally built in 2015 and previously extended in 2017 – IT4Innovations partnered with non-IT infrastructure integrator PRONIX and grooved pipe joining specialist Victaulic for a solution which ensured the project’s data centre stayed at the perfect temperature.
The secret to making the project a comprehensive success was in overcoming barriers, whether by adjusting to overcome the demands of modern society, or through initially securing funding, or producing a solution for a complicated installation.
Overcoming barriers to keep IT4Innovations cool
IT4Innovations currently operates four supercomputers: Anselm, in operation since 2013; Solomon, in operation since 2015; and Barbora and NVIDIA DGX-2, both in operation since 2019. All four supercomputers are located in the same data hall, covering an area of 500m2 and with a total load capacity of up to 2.5t/m2, representing a huge facility which is increasing in size.
IT4Innovations took the decision to continually grow its infrastructure due in part to the increasing demands put on supercomputers and data centres by modern society. The past year has proven a perfect case study for why data centres are so vital: as the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay at home, watch more television, and make greater use of their internet, supercomputers and data centres have been called upon to maintain this lifestyle. Higher demand is a barrier IT4Innovations needed to overcome; it responded by investing in larger infrastructure, matching growth in demand with its in own increased capability.
Jiri Aulehla, the Head of Design Department, PRONIX says: “Victaulic products were a clear choice for us at PRONIX. We have a time-tested positive experience with these technologies in the IT4Innovations data centre. The great advantage of the Victaulic system elements is also easy adjustment and variability in case of need for expansion.”
The extension to the system’s data centre plays a central role as IT4Innovations continues to operate a supercomputer system fit for the future. Before the initiative could put its plans into action, it first had to successfully secure funding – for data centres are not cheaply produced. IT4Innovations applied for funding at both a national and continental level, receiving support from both the Czech Government and the European Union. With sufficient funds in place, IT4Innovations was ready to kickstart its project.
To produce a system which ensured the extended data centre was kept cool, IT4Innovations chose to work with renowned non-IT integrator PRONIX to build the complete infrastructure, who in turn partnered with Victaulic to draw up the designs for the cooling system. Experts in drawing up blueprints, at the initial stage of the project Victaulic utilised its Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) team to create a virtual 3D model of the pipework for PRONIX to take to the client.
Although becoming more commonplace in the construction industry, use of VDC or BIM at the design phase of the project is not yet ubiquitous. But the advantages are there to be seen: the 3D model not only helps contractors showcase their proposals more effectively to clients, the construction team can also benefit from a more visual demonstration of the pipework they will subsequently build and install.
A solution fit for small spaces
The final challenge to overcome was set to PRONIX and Victaulic: to produce a cooling solution suitable for the small space afforded by the data centre and executed without the use of a ‘traditional’ construction site. As part of Technická Univerzita Ostrava, and thus situated on the university’s campus, IT4Innovations’ data hall is surrounded by other university buildings, welcoming hundreds of students into its corridors every day. The result: a site far too small for PRONIX to effectively complete all the construction and installation necessary for the project.
To overcome this challenge, PRONIX opted to prefabricate much of the pipework offsite, renting a small hall in the city of Ostrava and using it as the base for building. The benefits of prefabrication are multiple: building sections of the piping offsite leads to less time spent on the construction site, quicker installation, a safer project and ultimately a reduction in costs. And like with all projects Victaulic is involved in, representatives from the company joined the construction team onsite to provide support and guidance on how to use the products.
The designs, outlined in collaboration between contractor and supplier, required a series of different pipe types, including approximately 160 ‘ice hockey’ pipes – long pieces of piping with a bend towards the bottom so as to resemble the shape of an ice hockey stick – to be joined together, as well as distribution piping in the data room and mechanical room with pipe sizes ranging from DN20 (26.9mm) up to DN200 (219.1mm). All coming together, the system created a path for water to flow through roof installed cooling towers to any part of the data centre which required its cooling effect.
To join the piping system together, the designs were based around the use of Victaulic’s Style 107 QuickVic rigid couplings – which hold the two pieces of pipe firmly in position – and Style 177 QuickVic flexible couplings – which allow for a small degree of movement in the pipe joint – in addition to a combination of the company’s Series 761 Vic-300 MasterSeal butterfly and Series 716 check valves, Series 731 suction diffusers – saving space in the mechanical room by allowing building up at 900 angle from the pump – and the Style 920 Mechanical-T bolted branch outlets.
Michal Bek, Eastern Europe Regional Sales Manager, Victaulic, says: “Working with PRONIX on this important data centre project proved extremely successful as we were able to overcome what were considerable challenges for the client. Combining our rigid and flexible grooved couplings was the key to producing a solution for IT4Innovations.
“We foresee more data centres coming to fruition in the coming years ahead as well as existing centres, such as IT4Innovations, requiring extending. We encourage those planning these projects to take into account the various barriers they will also face when coming up with their team to deliver the project.”