Monday, December 14, 2009

SU's Green Data Center

Take all the computer servers for all of Syracuse University, put them in a single building, connect them to SU’s network, and what do you get? Well, theoretically, you should get a huge energy sink – a building that sucks up energy to power the servers and then sucks up even more energy to remove the waste heat generated by powering the servers, typically via mechanical refrigeration.

But, instead, SU has just opened a new building (called a “green data center”) which contains its computer servers and which has the potential to use only one half the amount of energy used by conventional data centers. The building has been engineered to showcase an array of the most energy efficient technologies available for data center power and cooling. This is important because it turns out that 1.5% of all electricity generated in the US is used to power data centers and the air conditioning systems that cool them.

How did SU do this? By calling on the engineering expertise of its faculty, led by Dr. Ez Khalifa of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department; SU’s Chief Information Officer, Chris Sedore; and the university’s incredibly talented campus design and construction team, led by Kevin Noble. And, by combining this talent with IBM research engineers such as Dr. Roger Schmidt, an esteemed member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Together, this team designed a new kind of “green” data center. Our data center:

1. Uses natural gas-powered microturbines located in the building to generate electricity to power the servers, so the building can operate completely off the grid if necessary;
2. Converts waste heat from the microturbines into cooling for the servers and cooling or heating to an adjacent campus building;
3. Delivers cooling via water rather than the usual power-hungry air conditioning arrangement, thus permitting a greater cooling efficiency;
4. Generates direct current (DC) on site and distributes it throughout the data center, rather than converting between alternating current and direct current. This eliminates the energy losses inherent in switching between the two types of current.
5. Is completely instrumented so that sensors monitor server temperature and usage, and send exactly the right amount of cooling to each server.
6. Contains a battery room with enough electrical power to run the servers for nearly 20 minutes, and a propane storage tank for a full day of operation This ensures that if the natural gas source is interrupted, and if the power grid goes down, the servers will operate long enough for an orderly shut-down of the servers. As Vijay Lund, IBM Vice President, has said, the data center is so reliable it is nearly “bullet-proof.”
7. Serves as a research and analysis center for IBM clients who want to build new energy-efficient data centers. It is also a research facility for LCS and Dr. Khalifa’s team to study and continue to optimize the design of green data centers. The aim is to achieve further energy savings through thermally-aware, energy-optimized operation.

Below is a computer-generated image (using principles of computational fluid dynamics) from Dr. Khalifa’s team showing a hypothetical cooling scenario. The colored lines represent the paths of parcels of air as they flow from the floor (blue grid) into the computer servers (white grid) and then into room air conditioners. The changes in line color indicate the temperature change of the air parcel as it moves through the room.

To see the building and get a virtual tour from Chris Sedore and Dr. Ez Khalifa, click here And, see if you can spot me in the video!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Creativity and Imagination in Engineering

It’s been a great week at LCS. On Wednesday, we hosted Dr. Patty Alvey, Distinguished Professor of Advertising at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Alvey, an expert in creative processes, met with faculty from across LCS and discussed the role of creativity and imagination in the engineering design curriculum. Dr. Alvey provided insights into the “ideation” process and how it can be incorporated more robustly in our first-year classes and capstone design courses. Dr. Julie Hasenwinkel discussed design problems tackled by seniors in Bioengineering such as a device capable of rigidly holding a test-skull in place while a calibrated weight is dropped on it. The goal is to assess damage around the orbits of the eye.

Dr. Sinead MacNamara described a new course entitled “Shell Structures: Speculative Design and Sensational Effects” which draws course content simultaneously from Engineering and Architecture.

Dr. Alvey and I also had a chance to speak to the “What’s the Big Idea” class, where undergraduates drawn from all disciplines at SU are taught the elements of entrepreneurship via real-world business start-ups. I heard lots of good ideas from the students about new products they are conceiving and designing, with the hope of eventually bringing them to market. I’d share those ideas with you on this blog, but I was sworn to secrecy!

On Friday, I joined faculty members from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at a gathering of researchers at Griffiss Institute located in Griffiss Business and Technology Park in nearby Rome, New York. Representatives from LCS, Clarkson, University of Buffalo, Rochester and other central New York universities, as well as researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate (headquartered in Rome, NY) met to discuss the dynamic and growing technology base of central New York State.

The CNY region brings together a tremendous amount of engineering talent in software engineering, information security, computing architectures, and other areas of computer science. We spent much of the day discussing models for publicizing the area as an IT hub of commerce and innovation. It was exciting to be amongst so many thoughtful engineers and scientists, interested in working together and bringing national attention to our many scientific activities.

And finally, Saturday morning saw the Build ‘Em and Bust ‘Em contest at the Museum of Science and Technology (The MOST) in downtown Syracuse. Our own LCS students from the SU chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers helped to supervise the festivities. Over 250 kids, with parents in tow, brought their hand-made bridges, constructed using only 15 pieces of Balsa wood and glue, to the Museum for a wild morning of festivities and model-testing. We used real loading cells just as we use in the LCS structural engineering laboratories to test the amount of weight each bridge could carry. In between, the kids were able to try out the exhibits at the MOST, such as walking through a giant human heart or exploring the Kinetic Sculpture in "Technotown."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Travel: Dubai, Kuwait and France

Back from a bit of a hiatus. Since my last blog, I traveled to Dubai to visit LCS civil engineering undergraduates working as summer interns at the Dubai Contracting Company. The interns are doing great, having a terrific time, and getting to know Mr. Abdallah Yabroudi '78, G'79, the CEO of DCC and a graduate of the LCS Civil Engineering program. Dubai is a center of commerce for the Middle East and new buildings are going up one after another.

In the morning, the students are working on DCC construction sites at the Rolex Tower, the 014 Tower (a.k.a. the “Swiss Cheese” building), and the Kingdom of Sheba residential complex. In the afternoons, when temperatures often top 110 degrees, the interns are learning about contracting, cost-estimating, and project management from top DCC managers. As Lauren Seelbach, one of the interns said “It was great to work on construction projects in an area with such a high volume of innovative and unique building. Wherever you looked, there was an example of every phase of the construction process, from foundations to finishes. You can’t find that in a textbook.”

After Dubai, our group flew on to Kuwait to attend an alumni event. We were met at the Kuwait airport by a remarkable alumnus, Iman Al Qatami. Iman was a student at the American University of Beirut in the mid 1970’s when the Lebanese civil war broke out. Iman and her friends transferred to Syracuse University to escape the war. Not only did Iman adapt well to the United States, but she was invited to join the Syracuse women’s basketball team and became team captain. Today Iman lives in Kuwait City and is the Asst. Managing Director for Anwar Al Qatami & Company.
This picture shows some of the remarkable women who attended the alumni get-together – most hold management-level positions in Kuwait. It was a wonderful evening, and I am hoping to spend more time with our terrific alumni in the Gulf States in the future.


On the way back to Syracuse, I stopped in France to see the stunning Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. Built between 40 and 60 AD under the empires of Nero and Claude, this massive stone structure is a 49 m high bridge over the River Gardon. It is topped with a water channel capable of carrying 400 liters/sec from the natural springs in the country-side to the thirsty residents of the great Roman city of Nimes. The bridge has three tiers of arches placed atop each other, forming a link between cliffs on either side of the river. This amazing piece of engineering was built by over 1000 workers without mortar or cement and stands today as arguably the most impressive feat of Roman engineering.

One of the best things about the site is that it is completely open to the public. We walked across the aquaduct (over the very stones that were laid 2000 years ago!) and explored the woods and hills, following the path of the aqueduct. The site has been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations and has a terrific museum with simulations of the construction process and representations of the bridge over the ages. One of my favorites is a painting by Hubert Robert, 1787.

It struck me that between the Pont du Gard and the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Museum in Paris, France has many engineering marvels to visit. Perhaps this is fitting, as France was home to many great mathematicians and engineers such as Fermat, Laplace, Fourier, Poincare, Carnot, and Coriolis.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Global efforts to protect critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks and disasters

Greetings from Europe!
I’ve just had two days of meetings in London. I joined representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and their counterparts from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia to share ideas about how to prevent catastrophic failures of critical infrastructure . We’re here because governments around the globe worry that the electric power grid or the water distribution system, among others, may fail during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. The multitude of failures and the ensuing chaos that resulted from Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 have helped to fuel these concerns. (Douglas Brinkley’s book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” by Douglas Brinkley,” 2005, gives an excellent review of the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina).

Our conversations are focused on computer simulation models that predict how critical infrastructures will fare if they are subject to a disaster. Modelers imagine threat scenarios (for example, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hitting southern California) and then run the models to see what types of interventions would be helpful in preventing damage and loss of life. Interventions can be measures like strengthening building foundations, or adding sensors to detect malicious activities, or evacuating an area after a toxic chemical has been released into the air. DHS has a list of the scenarios it worries about the most and uses the models to simulate: (, p. 37).

In London this week, at the meeting in London, modelers and managers of modelers from all over the world came together to share information about state-of-the–art methods in critical infrastructure modeling in their countries. The Representatives from the United States talked about the 100+ models they have developed to represent various infrastructure systems. These models are run by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Students, take note: Sandia has an internship program for engineering students. See

One thing we agreed upon at the meeting is that engineers by themselves cannot create the best infrastructure models: we need the help of “subject matter experts” who understand the individual infrastructures such as medical personnel for the public health system and police for the public safety system. Together, working as a team, the subject matter experts and the engineers can create realistic models (programmed in Java, or a software program like VENSIM for systems dynamics modeling). With these models, we can predict things like expected loss of life, the amount of money lost to the economy, and the number and types of infrastructure elements (like an electrical power plant) that will be damaged.

A good example of a useful model is the one that DHS created for the pandemic flu in 2006. The outbreak never occurred, but the same model is being re-run for the HiN1 virus threat. The results go directly to President Obama’s advisors to figure how to react to a swine flu epidemic. You can read about the model that is being used and the results of the study at:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome to my blog

My name is Dr. Laura J. Steinberg, and I’m Dean of SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS). This is the first installment of periodic blogs from me. My Dean’s blog will focus on topics of interest to LCS students and alumni – things like my upcoming visit to London and Milan to talk about how scientists and engineers model the effects of terrorism attacks and natural disasters on urban infrastructure. On occasion, my blog might even be a bit whimsical – you may find a description of a play at Syracuse Stage, or of a snowshoe trek I took at Beaver Lake Park. As often as possible, I’ll offer websites where you can follow-up for more information.

I’ll also report on some things that are happening at the College. For example, you’ll hear about the LCS plans for convocation, and I’ll introduce you virtually to our graduation speakers. Over the summer, the blog will keep you updated on some of special events we are planning for the next academic year. Eventually, we’ll offer a forum for you to respond.

One of the reasons why I want to talk with you on this blog is that there is so much happening in the world of engineering that I would like to share with you. This is a very exciting time to be an engineer: so many of the issues the world is focused on will need engineering and technology to help address them. For example: we need to create secure cyber-infrastructure to prevent hacking into our most personal information; we need to find ways of capturing, storing, and using alternative forms of energy; we have challenges in protecting our country from natural and manmade disasters and in protecting our GI’s on the battlefield; and much of the world is thirsting for reliable water supplies and in need of medical breakthroughs.

At the same time, the world of engineering work itself is changing. With more computerization and globalization, more of the engineer’s time is spent managing, coordinating, and interpreting than ever before. With much of the mundane work of engineering now done by computers or even by engineers living “offshore,” the engineer has more time to focus on difficult design issues and on managing the design and analysis process. And, engineers are spending more time working in groups and engaging with public policy makers, rather than living a “solitary “ life at the drafting board. These changes mean that engineers will need to develop their capabilities in teamwork, communication, and big-picture thinking very early in their careers. It will be a challenge for engineering schools to meet these developmental needs during the four years students are at school. In upcoming editions of this blog, I will talk more about how LCS can best prepare our students for life as engineers or in other professions in the 21st century

As I was thinking about starting this blog, I was excited to see a piece about the future of engineering in the April 12, 2009 edition of the New York Times. Imagine my surprise when the piece, entitled “With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?” began with these sentences, “In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge, and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war challenge.” As Steve Lohr writes in the article, this pattern is returning after a hiatus when many of the best college students studied finance and business consulting. “Science could well rise in the new pecking order of career status. The Obama Administration wants to double federal spending in basic research over 10 years and triple the number of graduate fellowships in science.” Quoting Dr. Eric Roberts of Stanford University, Lohr writes, “What we need to do is to broadly educate as many people as possible in science, so the most talented people find their way into the field. “

So, students, as you begin your studies for your exams this week, consider this: the world awaits your ideas and your expertise. There is much to be done.

I’ll be back at this spot later this week, when I’ll be reporting from London.

Dean Steinberg