After 15 years, the Yale Medical Campus Data Center will power down for good.
Last week, the University announced it would be closing the center — which once housed over 250 physical computer servers that contain research software and applications — this March due to cost-saving and efficiency measures.
The decision will save Yale roughly $350,000 per year and is part of a larger University effort to consolidate these once critical data hubs as the spaces become increasingly expensive and inefficient to maintain. Yale’s two other data centers — one on central campus and the other on West Campus — will become the new locations for some of the data still at the Medical Center. The data centers across campus are dedicated spaces where some of the University’s most important network components and information is stored and protected. The data that are not stored on those campuses will be stored in the cloud.
Though both administrators and faculty interviewed said the closing is unlikely to have a large impact on users on the medical or central campuses, the shift to greater virtualization signals a broader change in the nature of information storage on campus.
“It is possible that we may be closing other data centers in the coming years to gain operational efficiency and financial savings,” said Susan West, associate director of strategic communications for Yale’s Information Technology Services. “This does reflect the trend of greater use of applications that are hosted in the cloud.”
In general, research data are either held by individual researchers through secured connections or entrusted to offsite data centers, said Nihar Desair, professor of cardiology and member of the Center for Outcomes, Research and Evaluation. As a result, on-campus data centers have become a relic of the past, he added.
West said the decision to shutter the Medical Campus Data Center’s doors was motivated by both fiscal and pragmatic concerns. She added that there is currently unused capacity in the other two data centers on central campus and West Campus, and the medical campus data center was not ideally located since it is in a flood zone.
This is not the first time ITS has closed its data centers in recent years. Since 2010, the University has shut down two other data centers on campus and coordinated the relocation of the equipment on site, West said.
Most recently in 2013, the Becton Data Center — which housed 300 servers and storage devices — was decommissioned due to aging heating and cooling systems that would have required a $2.5 million capital investment, wrote Lou Tiseo, director of Data Center Services, in the ITS announcement at the time. Like the Medical Campus Center, the site was shut down as more information previously housed at the location was moved to virtual platforms.
Despite these cost cutting measures and downscaling of operations, West said no jobs are being cut or relocated as a result. She added that ITS plans to conduct a data center strategy study to analyze the future of Yale’s data centers as technology evolves in computer storage and the needs of the campus change.
The news of the data center closing prompted little reaction among members of the medical community interviewed. Of the 12 physician-researchers surveyed, eight had no knowledge that a data center existed, and the four that were aware did not know the details of the closure, including Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern. Though Alpern said he knew almost nothing about the specifics of the center, he was reassured that the closure will not affect services at the school and is part of a broader efficiency effort.
“I’ve never had to use it, and I’ve never heard of it,” said Desair, explaining that his lack of knowledge reflects the limited utilization of the space of it speaks well to how highly utilized the data center is, as far as he is aware.
Dean of the School of Public Health Paul Cleary noted that ITS has been pursuing a targeted strategy to increase the quality and efficiency of research and computing over the past several years. Cleary said he had not been informed of whether the data center’s capacity will be replaced but agreed with Alpern that it is unlikely that researchers, staff or students at their respective schools will be negatively impacted.
While most of CORE’s research is conducted on site, numerous security precautions must be taken to keep the data secure, including holding some data off site and using highly secured lines to transmit secure data online. As a result, CORE, like other research projects holding patient information, has no need for the Medical Campus Data Center.
Desair added that neither small nor large research projects would require on-campus data handling. If a study is of a relatively small scale, but still requires collecting data such as protected health information, researchers tend to keep it on their own storage devices. However, when the numbers of participants or data points in a survey increase, it is the norm for that data to be housed off site or sent to a third party.
“For anything large scale, the rule is to send it to a third party,” Desai said, adding that though there are sometimes exceptions to this rule, researchers typically turn to contract research organizations due to privacy concerns.
He added that the Institutional Review Board — which is responsible for overseeing human research — takes these precautions into consideration when deciding whether a study is ethical.
Only 150 servers remain in the Medical Campus Data Center as of February, nearly 100 servers fewer than the center housed at its peak.