Apr 18 2013
Data Center

Colleges Tap Turnkey Systems

Institutions save time and money and improve IT performance with one-stop-shop unified computing appliances that are easy to set up and manage.

When John Meyers took over as director of technology for the Department of Medicine at Boston University Medical Center a few years ago, there was no centralized computing infrastructure for research computing.

“People stored data on servers set up on lab benches under their desks,” says Meyers, who’s also an assistant professor of medicine and researches therapeutics for hematological malignancy, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia. “I told the administration I would revamp the research IT if I could rebuild it from the ground up,” he adds.

That’s just what Meyers did with his modest IT staff of three. The team installed Cisco Systems’ Unified Computing System (UCS), an HP 3PAR storage area network and an EMC Isilon network-attached storage cluster for Big Data storage and analytics, for image analysis and gene sequencing. “The new infrastructure has greatly enhanced our ability to do number crunching, statistical analysis and high-performance computing,” he says.

Meyers adds that the “service profiles” featured within Cisco UCS makes managing the servers much easier. “We can create a VMware template for a particular type of server, bind it to a UCS blade, and everything is all set,” he says. “It’s easy to configure, and just about anybody can do it.” This capability gives the school flexibility; for example, it can switch a server from a VMware host by day to run as an Apache Hadoop cluster member at night.

44% The percentage of IT managers who say ease of management is the leading benefits of an integrated computing platform

SOURCE: “Virtual Computing Infrastructure" (Enterprise Strategy Group, January 2012)

The Boston University Medical Center also runs virtual desktop infrastructure on a series of UCS clusters. The VDI environment segregates and isolates patient information for research and high-performance computing. “Much of the reason we do the VDI in our group is to protect patient privacy,” Meyers adds.  

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, says these types of management efficiencies move IT departments toward turnkey systems such as Exinda WAN optimization devices.

“Data centers are expensive and complex, so anything that can take out the guesswork and save time is most welcome,” Bowker says. “Put all of that together, and it becomes very compelling for IT managers.”

Flexible Solution

Career Education, a for-profit educational services institution, turned to a FlexPod solution that includes Cisco switches and servers and NetApp storage.

Dalbir Singh, director of database and server engineering, says the integrated system enables the online university to more easily provision servers. “What used to take us months to provision now takes hours,” says Singh. “We also deployed the same solution at our disaster recovery site.”

Now that the infrastructure is in place, Career Education runs many of its core applications over FlexPod. Singh says the IT department placed the student information system on FlexPod, followed by the institution’s financial application. “Eventually, the main academic application for students will run on FlexPod, as will just about everything else,” he says.

Where Turnkey Works

ESG Senior Analyst Mark Bowker says turnkey appliances have gained the most traction in these three IT areas:

  • Line-of-business applications: Organizations that have large deployments of specific business applications can benefit from a solution that’s designed to optimize those applications. These optimized systems apply hardware and software patches and revisions, leaving the IT department to focus on monitoring infrastructure.
  • Virtual desktop infrastructure: Many fully integrated systems now come deployed with VDI. Preconfigured solutions remove the burden of maintaining, tuning and troubleshooting the desktop delivery technology.
  • Private cloud: A fully integrated turnkey system also suits IT organizations that have a clear, well-defined cloud computing strategy. Deploying this type of back-end appliance can boost service levels and efficiency, and improve resiliency and scalability.

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