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A Lesson Learned

How Boston University is making the most of its IBM zSeries and TotalStorage environment




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Located on the banks of the Charles River in Boston's historic Back Bay district, Boston University has been in existence for some 157 years, beginning as a training institute for Methodist ministers. Since then, it has become the fourth-largest independent university in the United States, having more than 29,000 students representing 143 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

 

 

Because of its large size, Boston University has rigorous IT requirements, including basic back-office functions such as HR, payroll and other financial tasks. And because of its position as an educational institution, it has additional unique needs, such as student and faculty support, including, according to Gerard Shockley, assistant director of technical services with Boston University, "classroom scheduling, student/faculty advising and degree auditing, to name a few."

In short, the organization relies heavily on its IT underpinnings, wanting to make sure its 60,000 or so customers, who include faculty, staff, students and alumni, are well served. To that end, it has a zSeries 890, several AIX* technology-based servers and more than 20 Windows* servers. (Despite this somewhat heterogeneous server environment, Shockley stresses that the university puts its "chips on the zSeries server.") It also has a TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server* (ESS) F20 with 2.1 TB of storage and two IBM 3494 tape libraries with 3590-E tape drives, with each of its tapes capable of holding as much as 120 GB of data.

Several virtual Linux* partitions operate on the z890, including one that runs a Java* administrative browser that allows users to view their mainframe reports through the Internet as soon as theyre ready. As Shockley explains, "Instead of using a 3270 application, users can tap into the Java interface via a browser and customize columns and views, export data in a graphical format and translate the data to a number of different formats so they can massage it. This is a very popular tool." Notably, the university is strongly considering a road map to migrate its AIX applications to Linux on zSeries where it makes good business sense.

Shockley notes, however, that the zSeries virtualization capabilities are only one reason the university, which has been a mainframe shop for nearly 30 years, brought the new box into its IT environment in June 2003. "We appreciate its workload management and data sharing, and its high reliability, availability and serviceability, to name just a few things off the top of my head." The mainframe offers the university an economy of scale not available with other platforms. The university is also considering the use of the servers Capacity on Demand (CoD) capabilities "when there are un-forecasted spikes in business need, although we do a fairly good job of projecting computing requirements," Shockley adds.

Shockley estimates that most of the university's data load is read rather than write, pegging the numbers at around 90- percent read and 10-percent write. As he notes, "We allow global access and the z890 is Web enabled." To support these massive data needs, the organization has put the ESS F20 in place to act as its data"backbone," Shockley says. "It's a highly reliable disk-storage unit that's simply just there. It's never down, and if it hiccups, a service technician shows up with a part and we schedule a dynamic installation."

 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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A Lesson Learned

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