Marshall University Enjoys Enhanced Performance for Critical Campus Activities with SunGard and Red Hat

March 31, 2008

Customer: Marshall University

Industry: Education
Geography: North America
Country: United States

Business Challenge:

Running on a slow and expensive older system caused frustration for many at Marshall

Migration Path:

SunGard Banner on HP AlphaServer with Open VMS to Red Hat Enterprise Linux


SunGard Banner on RHEL




Enjoying increased performance, improved speed, and enhanced hardware options in a simplified environment


Marshall University is a state-supported research university located in Huntington, West Virginia, offering two- and four-year undergraduate degrees as well as graduate degrees. Founded in 1837 and named after the late Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, the school has an enrollment of approximately 10,000 undergraduate students and 4,000 graduate and medical students. Marshall offers 26 associate programs, 47 baccalaureate programs and 49 graduate programs and boasts a faculty of more than 700. Marshalland#x2019;s Division of Information Technology is responsible for the vision, policies, planning, development, implementation, and administration for the universityand#x2019;s vast technology system. The division is comprised of Computing Services, Distributed Education Technology, Libraries, and the Marshall University Technology Outreach. Marshalland#x2019;s robust IT division employs more than 100 IT professionals, committed to helping the university fulfill its mission of being an and#x201c;Interactive University.and#x201d;

Business Challenge:

Marshall uses the popular Banner suite from SunGard for important administrative and academic tasks, including human resource functions, payroll, class registration, and financial aid. Used in almost all facets of campus life, Banner provides students with a way to manage and monitor class schedules, registration, and financial information while giving faculty and staff members a unified system for academic administration, finance, and student evaluations. The Banner suite is widely used on campus and its deployment has spread to the Marshall University Alumni Association and the Marshall University Foundation.

Prior to deploying Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), however, the university’s IT staff was experiencing subpar performance that slowed these critical campus activities. “Systems infrastructure was a big pain point for us for several years,” said Jon Cutler, Marshall’s director of systems administration. Banner, running on aging HP AlphaServer systems with OpenVMS was using older direct-attached, SCSI storage subsystems, and the University Computing Services (UCS) staff determined that a large-scale upgrade was needed to improve speed while increasing flexibility and maintaining a manageable architecture.


Once Marshall decided to upgrade systems, the choice to go with Red Hat was an easy one. SunGard recommended RHEL to run its solution suite and noted that RHEL was a SunGard supported platform. The Marshall UCS staff was confident in Linux and happy with the less expensive hardware options open to them when using RHEL. Already using Dell hardware and storage from EMC, UCS benefited from Red Hat’s strong partnerships with those companies and SunGard. “Our application vendor, storage vendor and hardware vendor were all on board with our decision to go with Red Hat and we were happy to be able to take advantage of less expensive hardware options that were previously unavailable to us,” noted Cutler.

The UCS team began pre-deployment testing in late 2004 and the system was live in May 2005, the next time available for upgrades due to the academic calendar. Members of the UCS Enterprise Systems and Systems Administration staff received Red Hat training prior to going live and continued training post-deployment, with a few becoming Red Hat Certified Technicians. “Red Hat training is a big reason we’ve been able to keep things running smoothly,” said Cutler. “A number of us at UCS would like to continue training to take full advantage of the benefits of RHEL and become Red Hat Certified Engineers.”


Since the RHEL deployment, Marshall UCS has noticed improved performance and a dramatic increase in the speed of many critical applications. Marshall’s infrastructure is now able to handle the workload at peak usage times like course registration. Additionally, the IT department has been able to shelve the peak usage contingency plan that many other colleges still have in place. “We’ve been able to stay ahead of the growth curve on many things with RHEL,” noted Cutler. “It’s a great advantage not to have to worry about our infrastructure being able to handle a high volume of users or updated technologies.”

In addition to enhanced performance, Marshall has enjoyed cost savings, not only with RHEL itself, but also with hardware choices previously unavailable to the school. “Along with being cost effective itself, RHEL has made a big difference in hardware acquisition and support costs. We needed to replace some of our older hardware and running RHEL gave us the option to purchase something more affordable,” stated Cutler.

Support issues with Red Hat have been virtually nonexistent. Since the deployment more than two years ago, Marshall has had just one support ticket , while finger pointing among vendors when a problem arises has ceased. A simplified environment has helped with maintenance, as patch management is very easy via Red Hat Network and Red Hat’s many partnerships allow Marshall to receive updates quickly. “It’s common in higher education to have too few people running too many systems, but running RHEL has helped us greatly with our workload and mindshare,” said Cutler.

Marshall’s “power users” – those who use SunGard’s Banner and many other applications frequently – have noticed the increased performance while other end users have been able to conduct business as usual during and after the migration. “The best compliment from our average end user is nothing at all and that’s what we’ve heard since the RHEL deployment,” stated Cutler.
Marshall’s Red Hat deployment has been so successful that both the Marshall University Alumni Association and Marshall University Foundation have migrated their SunGard suite to RHEL at the advice of UCS. The UCS team is also looking to move other servers and databases over to Linux to take advantage of the many benefits.

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