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US UNIVERSITY LEVERAGES LINUX FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING (PART I)

The University of Oklahoma (OU) is a major research and degree-granting academic institution with three campuses that are home to more than 30,000 students. Prior to 2007, OU was running everything from its main campus website to its PeopleSoft infrast...

04/06/2013

But this IT infrastructure was unsustainable in the long term.

“We began searching for an alternative to Solaris, primarily to get away from being locked into the proprietary hardware, but also because of the Sun licensing and support costs, which were very high,” said Elliott Robertson, an IT analyst on the UNIX team within the OU IT department.

“We expected the biggest challenge of migrating away from Solaris to be the refresh of the Oracle PeopleSoft system onto commodity hardware with a new operating system. We needed a highly scalable and reliable operating system that could run on low-cost commodity hardware and was certified to run PeopleSoft. Red Hat Enterprise Linux fit all the requirements.”

At that same time, Robertson revealed plans to implement a new student system: the Sungard Higher Education’s Banner system.

“We decided to merge the two projects when we determined that Red Hat was the best choice for both the PeopleSoft and the Banner deployments,” said Gayathri Swaminathan, an IT analyst with the OU IT UNIX team.

Meanwhile, on another part of campus, a different scenario had been taking shape since 2002. The OU Supercomputing Center for Education & Research (OSCER) was founded in 2001 to help students and staff learn and use advanced computing in their science and engineering research and education.

OSCER deployed its first cluster in May 2002. “This was one of the first Pentium 4 Xeon supercomputing clusters out there, and the beginning of commodity hardware being used in rack form,” said Dr. Henry Neeman, OSCER’s founding director.

The original cluster had 8 storage nodes connected to a shared network file system (NFS) space that supported all the client computing nodes. The operating system was the then-community version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, comparable to today’s Fedora operating system.

But Fedora, the community version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, wasn’t working as well for OSCER as was required. “We needed the advantages that came from commercial-class support, which translated into the all the patches that went into the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributed kernel,” said Brandon George, OSCER’s manager of operations. “So we decided to upgrade to the commercial version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.”

The Right Solution

After the OU IT department decided that Red Hat Enterprise Linux would be the primary operating system at OU in 2007, the UNIX team chose Dell PowerEdge Rack Servers for most of the applications and the Banner student system and Dell PowerEdge r810s for the Oracle PeopleSoft database servers.

Currently, the UNIX team manages 60 machines for the Banner system alone and 200 Red Hat Enterprise Linux machines overall. “As an organization, we were looking to create an IT environment that could scale, was flexible, and was capable of provisioning and implementing large scale infrastructure and projects,”said Mark Weigel, OU UNIX team lead. “Red Hat Enterprise Linux enabled all of that for us.”

At OSCER, the team migrated from Fedora, the community version, to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the commercial version, before the first cluster went live. “We brought in Red Hat Enterprise Linux in fall 2003; and that was the end of the story,” said George. “And we just recently upgraded to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2.”

Each of the OU UNIX team members is a Red Hat Certified Engineer, as are several of the OSCER operations team, and all are active in the open source and Red Hat communities.

“We keep in touch with the community to stay informed on the latest Red Hat technologies,” said Robertson.

In the second part of this feature, Mark Weigel will share how the Red Hat Enterprise Linux has helped them achieve significant cost savings and efficiency in their overall IT ecosystem.

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