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Server Snapshots: Gateway in the Real World

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When Gateway decided to expand its business reach in the server market a few years back, it didn’t attempt to go head to head with Dell, HP and IBM in the enterprise market. Instead, it developed a strategy to go after organizations in the government and education sectors.

When Buena Vista University chose Gateway, it opted to give it more than a foot in the door. Today, the Iowa institution has an end-to-end IT infrastructure from Gateway.

The company has achieved quite a bit of success in the education market by offering deep discounts and partnership programs with schools and colleges. Its Web site, for example, has a page dedicated to listing the latest education deals. The page at press time lists a $50 LCD monitor upgrade, $500 off tape backup machines, and $400 off of a high-end laptop.

Buena Vista University (BVU) in Storm Lake, Iowa, is one organization that has taken the bait. It deployed Gateway laptops across the entire campus and about 20 Gateway servers in the data center. These machines have performed so well that the college is now up to its fourth generation of Gateway gear and about to add the latest wave of Gateway servers, including the newest 64-bit AMD-based models.

“Our experience with Gateway servers has been what we hoped it would be,” says Ken Clipperton, managing director of university information services for Buena Vista University. “The servers have consistently been reliable and also saved us plenty of money.”

Hawkeye State Education

Buena Vista University is an independent institution founded by the Presbyterian Church in 1891. Its motto is “Education for Service.” BVU has 1,149 undergraduates at its Storm Lake campus, as well as many graduate students, faculty members and staff. It offers 43 majors and 15 pre-professional programs in five academic schools: education, science, business, communication and arts, and social science/philosophy/religion.

Students at the college are given their own laptop computers and wireless Internet access, enabling them to go online any time from anywhere on campus. As a result, the institution earned the ranking of 10th in the nation on the Yahoo Internet Life list of America’s Most Wired Small Campuses.

“BVU was Gateway’s first ubiquitous computing campus,” says Clipperton. “All together, we have almost 2,000 Gateway laptops in use.”

These laptops are supported by an 802.11a wireless network, as well as Gigabit Ethernet to the network closets. All servers are attached to the main network switch via single- or dual-Gigabit Ethernet connections.

“The whole campus expects to be connected, in the way you expect a dial tone on your phone,” says Clipperton. “You assume you will always have it.”

The institution calls this the eBVyou initiative. Now in its fourth generation, it was initially supported by HP ProLiant servers running Intel processors. Clipperton says he was extremely happy with the performance and reliability of the HP machines. But with Gateway now on campus, he was continually approached about adding the OEM’s servers into the mix.

“We had to be weaned off ProLiant servers,” says Clipperton. “Gateway invited us to visit a college in Chicago that used Gateway servers. That gave us the comfort to consider deploying them on campus.”

BVU began by testing a couple of models provided by Gateway on a trial basis. These tests showed that the Gateway machine was virtually the same as the existing HP servers, with one major exception — price.

“The Gateway 975 was around 60 percent to 65 percent of the cost of a ProLiant but functionality equivalent,” says Clipperton. “It had all the required redundancy, dual power, and dual NICs, and the amount of processing power and memory hit our sweet spot.”

The Gateway 975 came to dominate the BVU data center, displacing the ProLiants. The university ended up with 16 of these 975s after it began introducing them in 2002. These were 2U dual-processing 3.02 GHz Xeon-based models with up to 8 GB of RAM and direct-attached SCSI drives. Novell NetWare was used for file and print, as well as for network storage. BVU has since transitioned from NetWare to Novell SUSE Linux, although one or two servers still run NetWare. A few of the Gateway servers also run Windows Server 2003, SQL Server, IIS and an educational application used on campus.

About a year ago, BVU began the switch to Gateway 9515 dual-processor servers, as the OEM no longer sells the 975. The college currently has four 9515’s.

“We were very happy with the Gateway 975 but it was no longer available,” says Clipperton. “The 9515 is equivalent, but based on more current technology, with features such as faster RAM.”

Virtual Campus

Clipperton is also looking to implement virtualization technology on campus through a combination of VMware and Gateway E842R storage servers, as well as by beefing up the amount of RAM on existing servers.

These storage servers have SAS drives and are deployable in a SAN environment. As a result, BVU is building a SAN using IP SAN technology from SANRAD, Gateway 842 storage servers, VMware, and the latest Gateway servers based on AMD 64-bit processors.

“We are currently waiting for a quote on Gateway’s new AMD server line,” says Clipperton.

The institution plans to shore up its disaster recovery (DR) capabilities via this new environment.

“We’ve had lots of student hard drive failures due to students not bothering to put their laptops on standby when moving around,” says Clipperton.

Students can recover academic files easily, as each student is allocated space in the data center to store them. However, until recently, other files (such as photos), would be lost forever in the event of a drive failure. BVU addressed this problem by loading up the two Gateway 840 SANs with SATA drives in a RAID 5 configuration and placing them behind the production servers. From this, each student now has an additional 10 GB of personal storage space. Every four hours the data is synchronized with the student’s laptop using a free utility called SyncBack.

“Students seldom backed things up using the CDRW provided on the laptop,” says Clipperton. “This new network storage has eliminated the problem at a cost of about $5 per student per year. It also helps to make moves very easy from one machine to another.”

Virtualization will be gradually introduced into this environment beginning with VMware version 3. The idea is to virtualize most of the production servers from 20 machines onto three or four. These will be tied in to the Gateway storage servers with added failover capabilities.

“We anticipate getting four or five logical servers onto each physical server using virtualization,” says Clipperton. “We’ll probably add the first of the AMD-based Gateway servers in the spring.”

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