Power Hungry: Servers Are the Lifeblood of a Campus, from Supporting Research Projects to Allowing Students Wireless Access. This Guide Will Direct Your School to Finding the System That Is Right for It, Considering Factors Such as Size, Operating System and Expandability. (Tech Roundup)

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Power. More than 600 users draw on server resources at the Cornell Theory Center for research done at the Ithaca, N.Y., university. With a wide variety of projects under way, including census data analysis, model protein folding and a host of science and engineering projects, the users at this high performance computing resource demand one thing from their servers: power.

Research is just one of the areas in which server/workstation architectures at campuses across the nation need additional power to meet demands. With a variety of potential uses, server solution providers have responded to a number of trends--all of which provide the power to meet user needs.

Trends: Clustering

The Cornell Theory Center makes use of a technique called clustering, in which multiple computers or servers are pooled to combine their computing power. A cluster can be much less expensive for the power provided than a comparable single machine.

The school installed two banks of servers (one containing 64 quad servers with a total of 256 processors, the other containing 64 dual servers with a total of 128 processors) connected by a high speed switch to allow parallel computing, says Linda Callahan, executive director of the center.

At Cornell, a cluster of Dell servers does the work that might otherwise be assigned to a more expensive supercomputer.

Clustering has also become a focus for Hewlett-Packard, where David Valenta, global markets development manager, sees "a trend toward Linux clusters" taking the place of a larger server that run the open source operating system. Although a cluster may save some money, Valenta cautions that "managing [it] is not as simple as managing a server."

Minimizing Footprint with Rack Systems

Jay Dominick, CIO at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., jokes that his servers behave like rabbits; every time he turns out the light, he finds more servers the next morning.

Dominick's servers aren't reproducing, but they are proliferating with a speed that makes space a premium. So, Dominick considers the "form factor" when choosing additional hardware for his all-IBM shop. Increasingly, this means choosing a rack mounted system with a small footprint.

As anyone who has ever tried to park at a university campus knows, space is always at a premium. This problem is equally present in the IT department and the server room, so many schools are looking to rack systems.

You get "more power per square foot," says Dean Bogues, director of the advanced systems group for Dell. Today, a server that is about the size of a pizza box can reside in a rack with 41 others; tomorrow, Bogues expects rack systems to hold hundreds of servers.

Serving the Anytime, Anyplace User

"Students never want to study at three in the afternoon," says Michael Humke, director of higher education markets for Compaq Computer Corp. He points to student demand for reliable, instant access to the information that they need to study and to enjoy. Humke says students expect their computing resources to be available around the clock with no interruption in service.

Demands on the server and its network are also much greater than they were just a few years ago. Reliability is a major factor when making a purchase, says Man Bui, e-Business Marketing Manager for IBM Public Sector. "The Internet doesn't shut down for the night. The system needs to be there for users whenever they require it." Similarly, "look at Napster," Humke says, referring to the online clearinghouse for MP3 music files that students expect to access rapidly and without interruption in service.

One way to increase reliability is with the rack systems discussed above. "[You] build redundancy less expensively" says John Mullen, director of sales for higher education at Dell.

Moving to Standard

Universities can be notorious for harboring legacy and homegrown systems for years, especially in the administrative departments. …