Posted on January 17, 2013

PG&E’s New Data Center: Improving Customer Service, Safeguarding Critical Information

By David Kligman

PG&E today (Jan. 17) unveiled its new data center, a 12,000-square-foot energy- efficient facility that provides the backbone for the company’s information technology systems — everything from storing critical customer information to helping route technicians to downed power lines to safeguarding the utility from cyber threats.

From left, James Sample, a PG&E senior director and chief of information security; Karen Austin, PG&E’s chief information officer and a senior vice president; PG&E President Chris Johns; and Valerie Bell, PG&E’s vice president of IT operations, at Thursday’s event inaugurating the utility’s new data center. (Photos by David Kligman.)

The new data center went online in December and will replace PG&E’s 30-year-old center that was running out of space and power capability. The new facility is in the Sacramento area, though Currents is not naming the exact city due to security concerns.

PG&E President Chris Johns and Karen Austin, the utility’s chief information officer and a senior vice president, joined local dignitaries in a ribbon-cutting event to mark the important occasion that one speaker called a “game changer” for the utility.

Location: Not prone to floods, quakes

The project to replace PG&E’s main data center began early last year with an exhaustive search for a location that wouldn’t be vulnerable to flooding or earthquake damage. To save costs, the utility leased the space from a large wholesale provider of data centers.

The new center is a mirror image of the utility’s backup data center, located in Solano County, which underwent an extensive rebuild.

“That means what’s running here is also running (there),” Austin said.

The result is a facility that takes advantage of the latest technologies while meeting the increasing demands of IT in every facet of the business. Johns said data centers are vital to PG&E, running the systems that keep service safe and reliable for customers.

The data center includes hundreds of virtual servers, which manage information that’s automatically reproduced at a secondary data center.

“We don’t always think of data centers as key to safety,” Johns said. “But when you think about our system, it’s built on a platform of not just pipes and wires but information and technology. And almost everything we do will go through this data center.”

Ultimately, the center helps PG&E provide better customer service, including:

  • Safety with enhanced recovery capabilities in the event of a disaster
  • Reliability with increased stability and less frequent outages for customers
  • Affordability due to a facility that helps PG&E lower costs required to implement technology services across the business

Quicker data retrieval

It’s also more efficient. Retrieving data from one of the most vital systems had taken two hours but now takes 15 minutes, Austin said.

Austin said that for employees, the new center will help IT keep up with the increased pressure to improve the performance, reliability and availability of the technology systems that serve as the foundation of PG&E.

PG&E IT director Alex Victor, right, gave a tour of the new data center to PG&E President Chris Johns and others.

Following remarks and a ribbon cutting, invited guests were led on tours of the center, which features multiple backup power feeds, four 1.3 megawatt generators, three 250-ton air-cooled chillers and 10 50-ton computer room air returns. There’s also a sophisticated security system that requires fingerprint access into critical areas.

Many were impressed that unlike most data centers, this one is not cold due to energy-saving pod enclosures and monitoring controls that focuses cooling to the actual equipment and not the entire room. Another difference is overhead cabling, which will make it easier to make repairs and build out the center.

And like the many data centers that PG&E has helped become more energy efficient, this facility was designed the same way. The center received the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification based on the environmentally friendly design, construction and operation of the building.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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