It’s a data center life for Dan Miller

If you’ve ever been on a tour of IU Bloomington’s data center, chances are you’ve met this UITS employee

RESIDENT TOUR GUIDE. Dan Miller's given a data center tour not once, not twice, but upwards of 700 times in eight years.

From the days of key punching and loading data manually into computers, to managing two university data centers, Dan Miller’s 42 years at Indiana University have been a technical journey. And he survives to tell the tale.

Born a Hoosier, Miller grew up in Indianapolis and has since not strayed far from his roots. Now at IU Bloomington, Miller is the data center operations manager for both the IU Bloomington and IUPUI data centers.

His data days started at a young age. As a high school graduate and IUPUI Business Studies major, he began his journey into data operations through various hourly positions.

“I started out as a courier,” Miller recounted. “I delivered 80-column punch cards from a key punch to places all over campus, along with printer paper, printouts, and things like that. I became a computer operator shortly after. I’d read students’ card decks into the computer and produce a printout for them.”

My, how things have changed.


From the ground up. Miller was involved with the IU Bloomington Data Center build in 2009 and knows the facility inside out.

Moving on up

From his early part-time positions, Miller quickly moved onwards and upwards. “I became manager of the data center at IUPUI in 1986. As the new university library was built, I worked with staff from UCS (University Computing Services) Bloomington to help shut down the old data center,” he explained. “A server room was built into the new library. So, we started putting physical servers in cabinets up there, and migrating some of the applications that used to run on the main frame into the server environments.”

In 1997, Miller moved to Bloomington to become the data center manager at what was then the IU Bloomington Wrubel Computing Center (WCC).

Miller counts himself among the lucky ones to have experienced two data center migrations during his career: the move from the university library server room to the new Information and Communications Technology Complex Data Center at IUPUI in 2004 and the IU Bloomington Data Center build in 2009 on the grounds near where the WCC used to be.

In fact, due to his extensive experience in the field, Miller was heavily involved in the pre-staging and planning of the server migrations to both new facilities. No small feat, considering the size of the projects.

If you’re a data center manager, and you get one opportunity in your career to move a data center, it’s pretty cool. But, I’ve been fortunate enough to have two, which was a really rewarding experience.

Miller was also present at the dedication of the original Big Red supercomputer at the WCC in 2006. “We actually needed chilled water to cool the equipment, which was different from anything we’d done in the past,” he recalled.

“Everything in the past was air cooled. So, we had to put in a chilled water plant in a separate building behind WCC just for the original Big Red. We had to monitor the chillers to make sure that the water temperature stayed at a certain level so the equipment stayed cool.” This was all a given when Big Red II came around, as the days of monitoring temperatures manually became something of the past.

Aside from Miller’s duties overseeing the supercomputers, enterprise systems, and day-to-day operations at both facilities, he works with 12 full-time staff who keep the IU Bloomington Data Center functioning 24/7 all year round. The IUPUI Data Center has more limited hours but is remote monitored from IU Bloomington with the help of different software tools that can keep an eye on monitor power, cooling, air conditioning, and server environments among other things. Additionally, the IUPUI Global Research Network Operations Center is operated 24 hours a day and is the team’s hands and eyes after-hours. 

Bigger tech, smaller footprint

“It’s interesting to see how tech has evolved,” Miller said. “The original Big Red was 25 cabinets of IBM blade centers and was eight years old at the end of its life cycle. Big Red II only has 11 cabinets, but it’s 25 times faster than its predecessor. It has 21,000 processor cores, so it’s way bigger in terms of capacity, but in a smaller footprint. We’ve been in the facility eight years already and the data center pods are only a little over half full. In the enterprise pod we continue to consolidate and virtualize systems, thus keeping the number of physical servers to a minimum. We’ve added new equipment, through server and storage refreshes, but because of technology it has a smaller footprint.”

Miller should know. One of the things you do as an operations manager at such an impressive facility is: show it off. “In the eight years we’ve been here,” he said laughing, “I’ve probably given somewhere between 500 and 700 tours. I can do it in my sleep!”


Sweet dreaming. The IU Bloomington Data Center was built to withstand an F5 tornado. Nothing's knocking that puppy down.

Miller can indeed sleep soundly now, dreaming of data center tours and knowing that the data centers are safe and secure. Rated to withstand an F5 tornado, and with an advanced fire suppression and security system, the IU Bloomington Data Center won’t be going anywhere. “The old WCC had a flat roof, we had leaks every time it rained, and when storms would come through, I would worry at night and not sleep thinking about power outages. Now, with the new facility, it’s wonderful.”

Living the home life

Outside of his daily tasks in the “bunker,” Miller has a busy family life. Married to Therese Miller, program director of the Collaboration and Engagement Support and Interoperability division at UITS, the high school sweethearts enjoy entertaining their energetic grandchildren, Charlie (four) and Everly (15 months). And when Miller’s not running around after them or his two dogs (a yellow lab and a ridgeback rescue), he’s enjoying a game of golf or mowing their 5.5 acres of land in the summertime.

What’s it like to work within close proximity to your wife? “We have a rule: work is work, and home is home, so it’s easy,” he replied. Words of wisdom to live by, in my opinion.

What’s more, Miller is a perfect depiction of leading by example. “I’m a working manager, if you want to put it that way,” he said modestly. “I think that because I worked my way up in data center operations, I’m able to lead by example, because I’ve done the job, and I’ve been hands on from day one.”

After a whole 42 years at IU this September, it’s no wonder he’s looking forward to retirement in a few years’ time.