Underground University building houses back-up computers

Alex Wilts

As students walk down the stairs in the East Mall every day, they may fail to notice they are walking over the Computation Center, an underground building built in the 1970s to house the University’s mainframe computer. 

The University built the center underground so it would not interfere with the historic buildings surrounding the tower, according to architecture professor Larry Speck.

“In some ways, people may have really thought it was a brilliant solution because they needed a computation center that was near the center of the campus,” Speck said. “But the center of the campus was all built out, so they thought, ‘Let’s put it underground, and put a terrace on the top and it will be invisible.’”

Speck said while the building’s placement seemed like a solution to architects, it actually created more problems.

“I don’t think they foresaw the fact that computation was going to be huge, so that wasn’t going to be the only computation center,” Speck said. “And it had no way to grow at all.” 

The University Data Center, completed in 2010 and located on the east side of I-35, now holds the University’s mainframe computer. Rabindra Kar, a senior software engineer at the Computation Center, said the Computation Center still stores sensitive computers and fiber optic links to other key areas on campus, including the data center. Kar said these computers are important in case the data center ever shuts down.

“If the mainframe goes down, it would still be a disaster for the University,” Kar said. “The data is at least backed up, so when the mainframe goes out, the backed-up data could be restored.”

According to Kar, the inability to expand the size of the Computation Center to include the data center is not an issue for the University.

“There’s a good reason to keep the University Data Center isolated from the rest of the people,” Kar said. “You don’t want people coming and snooping around. Any university our size, especially with our high amount of research, is constantly under cyberattack.”

Kar said despite the central location of the center, students still remain oblivious to its purpose. Thoa Pham, a biochemistry sophomore, said she uses the East Mall steps twice a day and has never noticed walking over the Computation Center.

“I feel like I should pay more attention to the UT campus,” Pham said. “I pass by this every day, and I don’t even know the place.”