Server Snapshots: Gateway in the Real World

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Oct 12, 2007

Gateway (Irvine, Calif.) has a tried and true pattern for getting its gear into the academic community. At the University of Arizona (UA), for example, it all started with desktops back in the early 1990s. That led to a stronger relationship and, eventually, to Gateway servers making their way into the picture.

From the desktop to the data center, the partnership between the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at the University of Arizona and Gateway has expanded in the past decade.

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"Somewhere along the way Gateway began to trust our technical capability, and we were setup to order in warrantee replacement parts via e-mail," said Leo Enfield, computing manager for Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at UA. "As you can imagine, this shortened repair times significantly, as we didn't spend those long moments with tech support for broken equipment."

More importantly, he said, Gateway contacts took the time to understand ECE's specific needs and helped the organization put together systems to create the best value. Finally, the university created an alliance with Gateway for desktop and laptop purchasing, which encouraged the adoption of other systems and services. Thus, the number of Gateway servers, now run by MPC (Nampa, Idaho), have increased steadily in the past few years.

"Ease of getting repair parts, as well as the ease of purchasing the equipment, makes Gateway the easy winner," said Enfield. "The alliance has created grant opportunities from Gateway and helped to fund a technology refresh bank."

Arizona's Servers

UA (Tucson, Ariz.) is a premier, student-centered research institution with more than 35,000 students enrolled and more than 1,500 faculty members. Established in 1885 as the first university, the UA embraces a three-fold mission of excellence in teaching, research and public service. It is one of only 62 members in the Association of American Universities, an organization that recognizes universities with exceptionally strong research and academic programs.

ECE is one of the eight academic departments that make up the College of Engineering at UA. Due to the decentralized nature of IT on campus, the departmental infrastructure is largely independent of other units, including other units in the college. The ECE Computer Systems Group (CSG) consists of four full-time staff members, one half-time staff member and three student workers. It is is responsible for 957 devices listed on the network. The user population includes 77 faculty members, 22 staff members, 253 graduate students and 677 undergraduates.

"We utilize Sun Solaris for many of our infrastructure services, such as LDAP, DNS, backup, Web, mail, listserves, IDSync to Active Directory, engineering applications, and basic shell access using 14 various SPARC-based Sun servers," said Enfield. "We have a two-shelf Network Appliance FAS 270 for storage. Our Windows Active Directory based domain and services are run on Gateway servers."

The oldest two servers, purchased in 2002, are Gateway 930 Series Pentium III 1GHz servers. One server acts as a ghost server for re-imaging the seven ECE undergraduate labs. The other has been converted to CSG temporary storage by taking out the old SCSI backplane and replacing it with a SATA controller and several drives.

"Before we started using Gateway, we had used HP Netservers, which were great hardware but very expensive to maintain and upgrade," said Enfield. "The Gateway servers had the features we needed and are generally upgradable with off-the-shelf components. We upgraded our old NT 4 domain from the HP Netserver to the Windows 2000 Active Directory Domain directly onto the original Gateway 930 Series server back in 2002."

In 2003, CSG added three Gateway 955 Series 2.6 GHz servers. One monitors network activity using various monitoring tools, one is used for patching and inventory, and a third runs Microsoft SQL Server as the backend of a pay-to-print system and VMware Virtual Center. A year later, the university added a Gateway 860 SATA-based NAS box for multimedia Web content storage for a few online courses. Around the same time, two 2004 Gateway 975 Series dual-socket 2.4 GHz Xeon servers were deployed. One is the Primary Domain Controller (PDC) and Active Directory server, as well as the console that manages anti-virus throughout the campus. The other acts as a VMware server and hosts the College of Engineering LanDesk server in a virtual machine along with several development images for the different labs and system builds.

More recently, CSG brought in a Gateway 9525r dual-socket 2 GHz server, also running VMware server. Virtual servers are used as network-attached scanners on each of the five ECE floors as well as a backup PDC. The latest addition is two dual-socket quad-core 9525r systems with 16 Gigs of RAM each running VMware ESX 3.02 with multiple virtual machines created as remotely connectable application servers for undergraduate use.

"Our historical method of getting student access to specific engineering applications was by outfitting limited access labs open when the building is open," said Enfield. "We are now developing virtual machines [that are] remotely accessible for any time use by ECE and College of Engineering undergraduates."

Enfield especially likes that most Gateway hardware components are upgradeable or replaceable from a locally purchased stock of parts. In addition, he appreciates that reference material for the systems is readily available online as well as its good remote management features.

I Want My MPC

As part of its recent acquisition, Gateway's U.S.-based professional business — encompassing all of its servers — was picked up by MPC. MPC will operate the Gateway Pro business, using the Gateway name for a year and assume all liabilities and warrantees. So how is this effecting ECE?

"In a recent conversation with a Gateway executive that supports the University of Arizona, I learned that the alliance is still fully intact and that he now sports the MPC logo on his e-mail signature," said Enfield. "I understand the change from Gateway to MPC will not impact the order process or our support and parts ordering ability."

He further noted he will have additional MPC systems from which to choose as well as new partners and services offered through MPC.

"At this point I'm looking forward to find the value added through MPC and hope that they can manage an effective transition," said Enfield.

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