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Data center more than just a room with computers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charlie Dennie, vice president of Alpha Technologies of Hurricane, is a soft-spoken, low-key guy but his eyes sparkle and he breaks out in a grin when Alpha's data center is mentioned.

"Let me show you the difference between a room with computers and a data center," Dennie said on Wednesday at the beginning of a tour of Building 6000 at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park.

Building 6000 was erected by Union Carbide Corp. in 1977 to serve as the corporation's data center. The Dow Chemical Co. acquired it when it bought Carbide in 2000.

Alpha Technologies bought the 79,700-square-foot building from Dow in June for $6.1 million.

HP Enterprise Services, a division of Hewlett-Packard, currently occupies a portion of the building. About 100 HP employees work there on a federal government contract.

Alpha plans to continue using the building as a data center, providing data storage, disaster recovery, cloud computing and other services to state and local government agencies and commercial customers. Dennie said there is ample space in the building to meet just about any customer's needs.

The key ingredients for a data center are power, cooling and redundancy, Dennie said. A tour reveals that Building 6000 has all three. Some power system and redundancy highlights:

n The building has four primary and two secondary, diverse connections to the power grid.

n There is an entire power substation inside the building. There are two 480-volt systems, each capable of producing 1.5 megawatts. "The building could be run entirely on either system," Dennie said.

There also are two 208-volt systems. "It's a lot of juice any way you slice it," Dennie said. "This is just the coolest place. This is the heart of the building. Diversity and redundancy rules the day here."

Dennie said the building originally didn't have any battery backup system that could be used if its robust power system failed.

"In 1998 they had the primary power supply offline for maintenance," he said. "A squirrel shorted out the second system and basically shut down Union Carbide for a whole day. A $5 hunting license would have solved the problem, but they spent another $6 million to build this annex."

Dennie led visitors into a series of rooms. First he showed off a large panel that monitors the power system.

Then he opened a door to reveal a battery room capable of keeping the building online for 20 minutes ("You're looking at $600,000 worth of batteries," he said).

And then visitors were led to a room housing a pair of 12-cylinder, turbo-charged, 1,500-horsepower, Caterpillar-brand diesel engines.

The engines are kept hot so they can achieve full power in just 4.5 seconds to supply backup power to the building. They rest on a special raised-concrete floor. Some indications of the size of the generators:

n An oil change for just one costs about $1,500.

n Each comes with its own 100-gallon diesel fuel tank for immediate needs. And then there's an 8,000-gallon fuel tank that's so large it looks like a rail tanker car without wheels. The big tank sits in a special room built like a well so if it were to leak, the leak could be easily contained.

"This is Carbide engineering," Dennie said. "You never saw Carbide do anything at less than 110 percent."

The power system take-away message: "We will not tolerate failure."

The data center has other unusual features, such as two roofs. Asked why, Dennie said, "Nobody wants rain on their computers."

Dennie said, "When you walk through this place and look at these things, you can't help but feel you're standing on the shoulders of giants."

Although the building was erected 35 years ago, "it still exceeds the specifications of almost anything else you can find anywhere in the country.

"And that is the difference between a room with computers and a data center."

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.


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