ServersHardware Today: College Elects Unisys Expansion

Hardware Today: College Elects Unisys Expansion

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For years, Westchester Community College (WCC) of Valhalla, NY was content to have its financial and human resources systems hosted by the local county. But in early 2004, a major upgrade and tighter budgeting for Westchester County necessitated a change. Result: WCC received an ultimatum. It had until the end of the year to migrate all applications to its own systems.

Last week’s Hardware Today Server Snapshot examined Unisys. This week, we look at Westchester Community College, a Unisys customer in the midst of the deployment process.

Westchester Community College has been slowly growing its IS stable. County funding cutbacks have spurred its latest burst. By year end, many of the college’s back-office apps will reside on on-site Unisys ES7000s.

“It was never a problem having the county host our applications, but the other 29 community colleges in the state already host their own systems,” said Tony Scordino, manager of network services at WCC. “This move gives us more control of the management of our systems and the ability to make our own business choices.”

Moving Toward Independence

The initial impetus in the move to in-house applications was a recommendation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a higher-education accreditation body. While this led to greater autonomy for the college’s IS department, the path to execution was marred with difficulty, and the college ended up with several key systems running in multiple locations. The systems integrated poorly with each other, and reporting proved difficult. Not surprisingly, quality of service suffered as a result.

So when Westchester County embarked on a major upgrade of its own systems and was given a budget of less than $10 million, it could no longer afford to host WCC’s remaining applications. The college had less than a year to figure out an alternative. Scordino wasted little time in contacting Unisys: He had already decided on a Windows/PeopleSoft software combination. In conjunction with VAR Computer Resolutions, Inc. of Connecticut, he asked the vendor to come up with the right hardware platform.

The 218-acre WCC campus consists of 14 buildings, as well as another six remote sites around Westchester County. It serves 12,000 credit and 11,000 noncredit students every semester. About 2,000 desktop PCs are available on campus, and wireless access is available to a relatively small number of laptop users. The IS department is also responsible for about 60 additional servers running a mixture of Windows, NetWare, Linux, and Unix. Gigabit Ethernet links buildings together, and 100 Mb and 10 Mb lines run to the desktops.

The community college chose Unisys because of its longstanding relationship with the vendor. “Four years ago, we began bringing systems in-house, starting with financial aid and student administration,” said Scordino. “As we’ve been doing business with Unisys/Sperry for 30 years, at that time we opted for two 8-processor Unisys boxes — one for test and one for production.”

For the recent, larger migration it chose two 32-bit, 16-processor ES7000 Orion 540 servers running Windows 2003 Datacenter Server and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. The college is currently in the thick of
migrating all of its business-critical applications to PeopleSoft 8.8 on the ES7000.

“The range of multiple processor options available on an Intel platform is pretty limited, and Unisys quickly narrowed it down to a couple of possible ES7000 configurations,” Scordino said. “We realized that anything below the level of the ES7000 would not be big enough.”

While the Orion 540 can scale up to 32 Intel Xeon processors, WCC currently has only 16 in each machine. The servers sit side-by-side in the server room, where they are being tested with PeopleSoft 8.8 Financial and Human Resources applications. They are scheduled to go live on December 1 of this year. In 2005, the college plans to migrate its student administration and financial aid systems to PeopleSoft 8.9 and consolidate all major business applications onto the ES7000. By that time, Scordino expects to be using as many as 24 processors.

“The ES7000/PeopleSoft combination will make life a lot easier by giving us one common platform for all our student applications,” he said. “This will also make it possible to offer self-service functions to students such as online registration and bill paying.”

The college chose two ES7000s for failover. Eight processors on one Unisys machine act as the production environment: The second unit claims another eight for failover. Eight additional processors are used for development, and the final eight will continue to host legacy applications until the PeopleSoft migration is complete.

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