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Keeping Stanford Connected: UIT's Technical Facilities Team

Friday, December 8, 2023

In our ever-connected world, data centers are foundational in powering financial transactions, keeping information secure, and catalyzing the widespread use of artificial intelligence. 

All computing networks and applications sit atop or route through data centers. Even as some networks and applications move to the cloud, data centers are what drive nearly every aspect of learning, teaching, and research at Stanford and across higher education. 

However, maintaining and managing these centers require a delicate balance between the promise of technology and the real-world settings in which they exist. Changes in temperature, humidity, and other unexpected factors can trigger outages that are widespread and disrupt teaching and learning

Humidity in particular is dangerous as it can cause components like electronic connectors to corrode. Left unchecked, corrosion leads to system downtimes, safety hazards, and increased maintenance costs.

University IT (UIT) strives to ensure Stanford’s technical infrastructure and support services are efficient, resilient, and scalable both on-campus and online. This effort is led by UIT’s Technical Facilities team, which manages 10 data centers and electronic communications hubs (ECHs) at Stanford including Forsythe Hall, the Northwest Data Center and Communications Hub, and Stanford Redwood City. 

ECHs are distributed and secure facilities that deliver voice and data services to campus buildings through a diverse network of fiber optic and copper infrastructure. These hubs serve as an island of stability when central services are down, isolated, or impaired. 

These facilities are equipped with backup generators to maintain power for computing infrastructure when power outages strike, and mechanical air conditioning units to control temperature and humidity.

UIT’s Technical Facilities team (also known as TFAC) works around the clock to monitor electronic, mechanical, and environmental components and ensure data center infrastructure is running optimally. Although the team leverages outside air cooling to keep costs and energy usage low, earlier this year, they measured high humidity levels in a Stanford data center. 

The team worked quickly to isolate and recirculate the air supply until outside humidity levels were acceptable to use, avoiding a potential outage.

“UIT’s top priority is maintaining reliability and availability of our mission-critical facilities,” said Thomas Villagomez, IT Technical Facilities manager. “Air quality, temperature and humidity control is an ongoing balancing act. Our goal is to find solutions that are sustainable and don’t rely excessively on utilities and other cost-intensive resources.” 

Led by Villagomez, the Technical Facilities team includes Bryan Bentley, Chris Slama, Marlon Tarape, and Ignacio Yanez. These highly-skilled, technical staff are on call 24/7 to monitor and test data center components and perform ongoing preventative maintenance in collaboration with Stanford Land, Buildings, and Real Estate (LBRE) to ensure critical infrastructure is ready when needed.

“Thomas and his team demonstrate detailed tracking, planning, and attention to detail to manage necessary refresh cycles via capital plan requests ahead of critical infrastructure meeting the limits of its useful life,” said Matthew Ricks, senior director, IT Facilities Infrastructure & Resilience. “These efforts underscore the need to continually invest in our infrastructure to sustain efficient and stable operations.”

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