Emory University Creates a Ten-Year Plan to Optimize On-Premise, Edge and Cloud Computing

The strategy returned valuable real estate to the University and created a purpose-built, modernized data center facility for all users.


Emory University is a top-ranked private institution recognized internationally for its outstanding liberal arts colleges, graduate and professional schools, and one of the world’s leading healthcare systems residing on a beautiful campus in Atlanta, Georgia’s historic Druid Hills neighborhood.

The University needed a comprehensive review of their collective data center spaces so that a multi‐year plan could be developed to help guide decisions related to Emory University’s IT data center facilities. The IT Data Center Strategic plan was led by Emory Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) with assistance from the Planning, Design and Construction department, and the Energy Strategy and Utilities departments of Emory Campus Services. The Strategic Plan would provide a recommended approach to transform and evolve the current spaces to meet Emory University’s goals over the next ten years. It needed to include the physical requirements of data center space, costs to maintain and update the areas, risk management approaches, connection to the support offices, and sustainability.

Emory University had several data center and switch room facilities of various sizes and redundancy levels ranging from relatively small server rooms to purpose‐built, centralized data center spaces. These facilities are expensive to operate, and several of them were in need of significant renovations. Separate divisions managed many of the data center locations and were located on different campuses. They were also experiencing a surplus of space in some of the data centers due to IT consolidation, flash storage, increased virtualization, and the migration of some IT services to the cloud. The appropriate extent of cloud services versus data center facilities needed to be considered in regards to operations, long-term costs, and risk management.

Emory University’s data center profile is unique as it includes the Emory healthcare IT environment in addition to the data centers on the academic campus. The integration of a healthcare data center supporting over 2000 physicians and 3.9 million annual patient visits required careful consideration as the technology, compliance, and security requirements were different from the university. The risk management evaluation addressed local issues of backup utilities, disaster recovery, redundancies, and planning for technology advancements across the healthcare and academic environments and the strategy also covered overall energy use and sustainability.

Leading Edge Design Group was selected through an extensive Request for Proposal (RFP) process to perform the Emory University data center assessment and provide the University with a long-term strategic plan.

The engagement included:

A data center strategy and approach to transform Emory University’s current data center assets to meet expected needs for ten years.

A detailed review of each on-campus data center facility including the technology profiles and physical infrastructure that included power, cooling, fire protection, networks, etc.

An evaluation of the current use of cloud computing on campus in the academic, research, and healthcare communities.

The collection of usage, planning, and growth information from relevant stakeholder groups on campus that are users of Emory data center infrastructure and services. This detailed planning effort extended across all schools on campus, the healthcare organization, facilities, and construction.

Recommendations on how to maximize energy efficiency and sustainability in design and recommendations.

To develop the strategic plan, LEDG first conducted stakeholder interviews with IT leaders in each school and academic departments, the healthcare network, facilities planning & construction, research computing, and other project stakeholders. LEDG was tasked with normalizing all the requirements such that a strategy could be developed that would meet the diverse needs of all data center users on campus. These requirements included a wide range of needs around computing density, compliance, security, physical access and more. After developing an understanding of each group’s needs, LEDG conducted onsite reviews of each data center space on campus, evaluating their capacity to meet user requirements. LEDG compared the diverse user requirements with the existing infrastructure on each data center site using data center best practices. LEDG was able to develop a strategic plan that reduced the overall data center footprint on campus, returned valuable real estate to the University, improved the ability to support high-density computing, and met the various security and compliance needs of the users on campus.

LEDG recommended a consolidation into one of the existing Emory University data centers, allowing them to collapse two existing data center spaces on campus. This strategy returned valuable real estate to the University and created a purpose-built, modernized data center facility for all users. The updated design integrated the healthcare data center without compromising security and compliance of patient data, established high-performance computing capabilities, and improved energy efficiency in the space. Also, LEDG created a phasing plan that enabled construction on the data center space to occur without significant downtime to critical systems.