Innovative and space-efficient data centre design delivers real benefits for the MRC

Medical Research Council — Harwell Institute

For over a century the Medical Research Council (MRC) has made a real difference to people’s lives, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world, promoting improved human health via a programme of leading edge research.

Such high-impact research has provided the financial support and scientific expertise behind a number of medical breakthroughs. Central to their role has been their ability to advance and disseminate knowledge, with technology playing a key part, never more so than in recent years with the need for access to more resilient computing resource.


With growing demands to back up data in addition to increased support required for a research programme in Gambia, MRC’s Harwell site was chosen as the location for a new Data Centre facility.


2bm’s challenge was to make the most efficient use of the space available through the use of innovative design using robust tried and tested components.

With a tight 12 week build programme the ‘room within a room’ approach made best use of modular wall panels, which were part assembled off site. This reduced the time required to install the shell of the data centre to ensure handover deadlines were met, in addition to providing an insulated hermetically sealed area to provide the required environmental stability.


The need for power efficient and sustainable technologies along with redundancy to meet TIA 942, ‘soft’ Tier 3 (Tier 3 with exception of dual mains and generator power supplies) was achieved to allow for the deployment of 10 IT equipment enclosures, to accommodate a mixture of low and medium density power configurations. With built in future proofing the design allowed for 50% future expansion without disruption to the currently deployed equipment, allowing the facility to grow as the IT requirement increases.

With the number of limitations in place a hybrid cooling solution was employed to provide a resilient cooling solution that required no ceiling or floor void to fit with the building constraints. The hybrid cooling configuration helped deliver a solution that provides free cooling for most of the year given normal UK temperatures.

A modular UPS solution was also used, along with space for future expansion without downtime, whilst also providing a limited footprint.

Dual power distribution and low energy lighting was also used along with a suite of environmental monitoring tools to provide the MRC with ongoing management information.

The project’s modular design ensured the data centre was handed over on time and to budget, with controlled access at all times to the secure site. The facility is supported by a full environmental monitoring solution that is linked to the site’s Building Management System (BMS) and provides alerts to key members of staff. Due to the innovative design, free cooling is achieved for 80% of the year, resulting in a projected PUE of less than 1.40.

The Works Programme

› Health and Safety, CDM compliance, separate site setup

› Strip out and building

› Modular DC build and associated ancillary areas

› New mains power provision and distribution within the IT facility

› Modular expandable N+1 UPS system

› Emergency standby generator

› Low energy lighting, associated controls and small power

› Individual rack earthing and bonding

› N+1 cooling solution with free cooling

› Zero Ozone depleting inert fire detection and suppression system

› Environmental monitoring with remote alerting

› IT infrastructure and aisle containment

› IST testing and commissioning

› Network cabling

› Full level 5 IST testing and commissioning utilising IT load simulators to carry out full black out and failure scenarios


Whilst cost was clearly one of the key drivers in the choice of partner, other key factors played a part in the decision to award 2bm the contract. We were aware of 2bm’s growing reputation and that was reflected in their professional approach. They weren’t afraid to challenge and as such we had complete confidence in Gordon (Smith), Rob (Sewell) and the project team. They understood the challenges the building presented and put forward an innovative design that ticked all the boxes.

Phil Ashworth - MRC

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