Hardware Today: Gateway to Campus

Gateway is not a vendor that normally comes to mind when evaluating servers. In the past few years, however, it has quietly been building a reputation in the government and business fields with a small collection of reliable servers backed up by first-rate customer service. It is in the education market, though, where the Gateway brand is now held in particularly high regard.

At the College of the Canyons, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Gateway servers make the grade.

One educational institution that would agree with this is the College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, Calif. It uses a variety of Gateway servers and storage gear as the backbone of its IT environment. After standardizing on Gateway PCs nearly a decade ago, the company added several servers to the mix. Now, Gateway dominates its infrastructure.

"The servers operate well and the support is excellent," says James Temple, director of network and computer support services at the College of the Canyons. "Having a single point of contact for both desktop and server issues is an obvious advantage. It makes replacement parts and service a lot easier when you deal with one company primarily."

The College of the Canyons is situated in what is known as Canyon Country, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 1969, it is located on 153 acres and currently claims more than 14,000 students. Although the curricula is varied, the bulk of the diplomas are awarded for liberal arts, followed by nursing and accounting.

The campus operates a fast Ethernet network with a 1 GB backbone and a full bandwidth DS-3 out to the Internet. All desktops are connected to 10/100 ports, and the servers operate at 100 full-duplex.

The college first began adopting Gateway hardware in 1996 at a desktop level. That soon led to a decision to standardize on Gateway PC's. About five years ago, the IS organization decided to experiment with a server. A Gateway 8400 was added. Temple liked what he saw and soon added three Gateway 7450R servers. These were single PIII 1 Ghz machines with 1.5 GB of RAM.

"Before Gateway, we had a DEC Vax for our student information system and an AlphaServer that provided user authentication for our Windows-based systems," says Temple. "We also had a Micron Vetix server we used for printing and file storage for student computer labs."

The college has two Micron 6600 servers attached to a Micron SAN. Three Micron 1610 servers and several other Micron servers and workstations continue to be used. In addition, two Mac OS X servers serve files and applications for Mac users. (Out of about 1,650 computers in use, about 155 are Macintosh.) An HP N-class server currently houses the college Student Information System.

On the software side, the college is running SQL Server 2000, Windows 2003 Enterprise Server, a document imaging system, Windows Active Directory and Symantec for virus protection. To support its student needs, the college harnesses heavy-duty rendering software used in animation. A render farm is a method to render frames of animation on multiple computers. One frame can take several minutes to render on a single computer. By distributing the load over multiple computers, the complete animation sequence is rendered in much less time. The college's render farm capabilities are in high demand, as it is only a 20 minutes from Hollywood.

"Providing our students the experience to work with a render farm during their education will benefit them in their professional careers," says Temple.

Gateway Storage

Due to reliability and pricing, the campus has steadily increased its Gateway server base in recent years. Two years ago it added eight Gateway 955 servers followed by a Gateway 995 server. More recently, it purchased 10 Gateway 9515's and the seven Gateway 9315 servers.

According to Temple, the 9515's are single 3Ghz Intel Xeon machines with two 300 GB hard drives and 2 GB of Ram. It also has a 800 MHz front side bus and 64-bit extended memory technology (EM64T). Gateway markets these servers heavily to educational establishments, government agencies, and small businesses that seek high-performance in a limited space.

The 9315 is essentially a 1U version of the 9515. Temple reports that most of these boxes are single 3GHZ Xeons with two to three 160 GB drives and 2 GB of RAM. A few of them have 4 GB of RAM.

"The 9315 and 9515 were recommended by Gateway's sales engineers as rugged machines that would work well as domain controllers, file and print servers in our Windows 2003 architecture," says Temple. "Their expansion capabilities and the options they offer met our needs."

Gateway also stepped up to the plate when it came to streamlining the storage infrastructure at College of the Canyons. Apart from a small Micron SAN, Temple reports that direct attached storage was largely used. File storage was spread across several direct attached tower servers. Two years ago, the college bought a Gateway 840 storage array with four Serial ATA (SATA) 250 GB drives.

Storage demands have been relatively mild, however, and Temple says the IS organizations is using only about 10 percent of the capacity at any one time.

That storage system is supplemented by a Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Thunder 9520 unit with six 14 6-GB 10,000 RPM hard drives connected via Fibre Channel to three of the Gateway 9515 servers. Another 4U Gateway 855 server is used to host an SQL Server database. Also SATA based, the Thunder 9520 is targeted at modular storage needs for workgroups.

"We had our Gateway and HDS SAN up and running within one day," says Temple. "The SAN takes care of our file server, SQL and Exchange storage needs. In addition, it also houses the many files created in our student animation labs."

He notes that the college has not completed its transition from direct attached to SAN-based storage. It is still in the process of moving information off the older tower systems. At the moment, the Hitachi unit only has about 6 GB of information, while the Gateway SAN has another 12 GB or so.

"We have no immediate plans for other servers at this time," says Temple. "We are focusing on moving the existing functions of the older tower units to the new Gateway rack servers. Once that is completed, we will look into adding more servers as necessary."

This article was originally published on Mar 21, 2006
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