EPA data center trims staff, cuts costs to sustain growth

EPA data center trims staff, cuts costs to sustain growth

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.'At the Environmental Protection Agency's data center here, wasting resources is an ecological faux pas.

Near the bins where EPA researchers pick up the print runs of their pollution models, a sign warns against unnecessary printing. One box of unrecycled paper 'costs 40 percent of a tree, 172 gallons of water, 100 kilowatt hours of electricity and 1.5 pounds of air pollutants,' the sign cautions.

Gerry Hungerford, who manages the center for contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., said the agency has instituted 'print reduction for everyone in Research Triangle Park and Washington. The goal is no print.'

Time to print

Unless researchers can rely mostly on scientific visualization of their program results, however, they still print a summary page and then phase out the rest of the print queue. The effort has cut scientific printing at the facility from about 120 million lines per month to about 3 million lines, Hungerford said.

Likewise, the EPA data center has cut back its operations staff even though processing volume continues to grow.

'We used to have an operator for each machine,' including 24 Unix servers, two SGI Cray supercomputers and an IBM ES/9021 mainframe, Hungerford said.

In addition to scientific models, the data center processes payroll for the local EPA offices.

Four operators now monitor all the computers, and a single operator is present on weekends and holidays.

'We close down only Dec. 25,' Hungerford said.

The data center staff, which once numbered 62, has dropped to 18. There had been 15 employees working in three shifts whose sole job was mounting tapes. 'Now it's zero,' he said.'Robotic silos from Storage Technology Corp. of Louisville, Colo., juggle the 1.2G tape cartridges on which the center stores much of its 26T of environmental data.

An upgrade is under way to StorageTek's 9840 tape drives and 20G cartridges, but 'users have old data that we must be able to read,' Hungerford said. He still keeps some Univac tapes dating to 1974. The center's punch card reader and its halon fire suppression system, however, have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

When the environmental research center relocates next year to new quarters with 1 million square feet, the printers and other hardware also will be new.

Hungerford said a replacement also might be in the works for the Cray T3D massively parallel supercomputer, nicknamed Banyan, which runs the Mesoscale Meteorological Model 5 and the Regional Acid Deposition Model on 128 Compaq Alpha processors with 8G of memory.

EPA has no present plans, he said, to replace the IBM mainframe or the year-old Cray T3E 1200 parallel supercomputer, nicknamed Hickory, which has 72 600-MHz processing elements with 18G of memory.

But EPA will upgrade the T3E, which runs EPA's Community Multiscale Air Quality Model, to 128 processing elements.

The data center has a total processing capacity of about 468 million instructions per second.

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