‘Our researchers want to keep control of their data’
Maastricht University chose for the telecom & data tower to be in a ‘home town’ location for its new primary datacenter. This choice took into account proximity, sustainability, continuity and flexibility. Peter Verheijen: ‘Thoughts were shared with us’.
Data form the lifeblood for universities. Such valuable resources should be kept in a safe place. In this context and until recently, this could be improved at Maastricht University, according to the Head of ICTS Operations Peter Verheijen. “We had two computer floors at our locations in the city. The quality of these areas was no longer in line with the growing ambitions of the University. For instance, they failed to provide emergency power supplies because in the city centre, there is no permission to work with aggregates.” Major incidents were averted but the situation was no longer acceptable. An external agency was asked to carry out an investigation. “This showed that just one of our floors was suitable, but only as a secondary datacenter.” The best solution was to house the data to a remote datacenter, preferably one located in close proximity. Verheijen, “we wanted to place our own equipment. For the time being, we still have many systems in-house, including the hardware.” Nearby storage was also requested by many of the University researchers. “They want to keep a grip on their data by keeping them in close physical proximity. Sometimes they still have this within their own office.”
Maastricht University thus went looking for a datacenter located in the immediate vicinity that could provide continuity. And these were not the only requirements. In line with the University’s strategy, the new location also had to focus on sustainability. The starting point was a PUE-value of 1.2 or less. According to Verheijen, this also makes sense from a point of view of costs: “The level of power consumption of a datacenter is high. You can save a lot of money by paying close attention to energy consumption”. In terms of data security and privacy, new location expectations were also high. The University is dedicated to these factors; its associated ambitions reach further than merely meeting legal requirements as set out in recent General Data Protection Regulations (AVG). “We want to be the first University in the Netherlands to meet the FAIR principles. The idea behind this is that data should be retrievable, accessible, interchangeable and reusable.”
Eventually, two candidates were able to meet the required criteria determined by the Maastricht University. The preferred option was Cellnex (formerly: Alticom). Several factors played a role, such as costs and the people at Cellnex, says Verheijen. As well as this, the location, the telecom & data tower in the suburb of Daalhof in Maastricht, was seen as favourable. “You can get to the datacenter from the University by bike.” It is located close to the city centre and it guarantees continuous energy supplies. The Cellnex towers actually form part of the Dutch emergency infrastructure. They are also well protected from flooding because of their location at a high altitude. The datacenter in the telecom & data tower is now the primary datacenter of the University. Verheijen is happy with the transition. The complete ‘new build’ approach offered the opportunity to make everything more robust and to start working with new network technology. Many joint ideas went into setting up the datacenter, according to Verheijen, “Cellnex helped us with preparing the cabling which makes it relatively easy to make changes”.
The new datacenter has provided the University with an important step towards realisation of a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure. If expansion is required, then this is relatively easy to achieve. The fact that it will grow quickly is not an imaginary scenario. Digital data continues to grow. In hindsight, the data storage needs of Maastricht University have grown quite significantly over the past five to ten years. Verheijen: “this is partly due to new and emerging departments in data science but also in the biomedical context. For example, a lot of work is being done with MRI scans. Our research groups generate and process large amounts of data”.
The new datacenter contributes to the high levels in data security and privacy that the University strives for. Verheijen: “We can now regulate things more precisely than when the datacenter was located in the University. The access policy has become stricter. Our own ‘private floor’ on a certain level in the tower is only accessible to a select few people that work at the University. Another advantage is that we now have support 24 hours a day. These things were less easy to realise for an internal establishment in the University. The level at which we have things organised now, is linked to the level of importance we allocate to data.”