Red Hat Virtualization Delivers Cost Savings and Increased Performance for University of Sydney

March 13, 2009

Customer: University of Sydney

Industry: Education
Geography: APAC
Country: Australia


Business Challenge:

Quickly and cost-effectively develop a high-availability platform to support a web-based file repository, enabling the University to comply with new Government regulations

Migration Path:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 and 4 to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Advanced Platform

Software:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Advanced Platform with integrated virtualization, Red Hat Cluster Suite, Red Hat Network (RHN) Satellite, Red Hat Consulting, DSpace (web-based file repository)

Hardware:

2 x HP ProLiant DL380 G5 servers, 2 x Dual Core CPUs, HP EVA SANs

Benefits:

Achieved quick deployment, cost savings, high availability, reliability, and scalability

More
Background:

Founded in 1850, the University of Sydney became the first university established in Australia. Today, it has an international reputation as a centre of research excellence and an active and engaged community leader. The University boasts approximately 45,000 students and about 3,000 full-time academic staff. Its library holds the largest collection of books in Australia. The University of Sydney is one of a number of member universities across Australia and New Zealand that takes advantage of the Red Hat CAUDIT Agreement. Through the CAUDIT Agreement, the University is given the opportunity to deploy an unlimited number of Red Hat Enterprise Linux environments covering both its server and desktop environments. Each Red Hat Enterprise Linux environment is protected by unlimited 24andtimes;7 support, and the package comes at a small fee. The CAUDIT Agreement is currently one of the most successful university programs in the world.

Business Challenge:

In 2007, the Australian Federal Government introduced new guidelines for justifying university funding, based on evaluating the quality of research output from individual universities. Known as the Research Quality Framework initiative, the program introduced a peer-based output review process that relied on reviewers’ input from all over the world. In order for this to be successful, the Government required a reliable and secure channel of 24/7 access to each university’s repository of research.

The new guidelines presented two main obstacles for the University of Sydney. First, it was unsustainable to finance round-the-clock datacentre staffing to ensure the 24/7 system uptime that was required. Second, it would risk overloading its two aging datacentres. This meant that the University of Sydney couldn’t guarantee 100 percent uptime and needed a reliable system.

“In order to comply with the new rules we needed to quickly and inexpensively provide a high-availability platform for the ‘DSpace’ Tomcat Web-based repository application that would enable us to store research files and publications, along with a PostGreSQL back end,” said Nikolas Lam, Unix System Administrator, University of Sydney.

“The real dilemma was that both the University’s aging datacentres, situated approximately two kilometres apart and powered by different electricity sub-stations, were already under considerable cooling stress and were very close to electrical capacity. On their own, neither was considered to be reliable enough to handle the platform,” said Lam.

Lam and his team also recognised the need to enable DSpace to failover relatively quickly, not just between hosts, but between the two datacentres.

Solution:

Given that the university faced significant time, financial, and capacity constraints, it turned to Red Hat to help provide a virtualised open source environment as an alternative to adding multiple new machines.

In mid-2007, the University of Sydney deployed Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.1 Advanced Platform with built-in virtualisation and integrated Red Hat Cluster Suite capabilities. It engaged the trusted expertise of Red Hat Consulting to provide guidance during the deployment, which was completed within three months.

“We were already running DSpace on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, and the team was familiar with the operating system. Initially, we considered having the code of the application modified to make it cluster-aware, but it became apparent that it would be too complex a task,” said Lam.

“Red Hat Cluster Suite emerged as a straight-forward way of taking a non-cluster-aware service and placing it in a cluster, and was a fundamental component of the system. When it came to virtualisation, the compatibility with Cluster Suite, the extra efficiency of para-virtualisation and the ability to minimise the number of vendors involved meant that the virtualisation capabilities incorporated into Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform made the most sense,” said Lam.

“Enlisting the help of Red Hat Consulting to assist with the installation also meant that our staff could continue with their normal workload, which expedited the implementation,” said Lam.


The University also employed Red Hat Network (RHN) Satellite with management and provisioning modules, for additional administrative capabilities. RHN Satellite is an easy-to-use systems management platform for growing Linux infrastructures. Built on open standards, RHN Satellite provides powerful systems administration capabilities for large deployments. It enables organisations like the University of Sydney to manage many servers as easily as it would one.

Also important for the University was ensuring immediate, seamless automatic failover between datacentres, should a disaster arise. For this it relied on one HP EVA SAN in each datacentre. Another critical component was the layer three Linux Virtual Server, developed in-house to allow the University to present a single IP address to the outside world despite being hosted in various geographical areas.

Benefits:

For the University of Sydney, one of the most notable benefits of the Red Hat deployment was the ability to plug in a standard application and instantly improve its availability, without substantial modification to the application source code.

“When we were suddenly faced with Government-imposed guidelines for managing and storing research data, it was Red Hat that allowed us to easily and effectively plug in DSpace to give us the solution we needed,” said Lam.

“It also meant that we could comply with the new regulations in a short space of time. The alternative would have required time and money that we didn’t have,”
 said Lam.

With Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform, the University was provided with a complete solution that offered both cost savings and high performance. The solution delivers integrated virtualization technology at no additional cost, eliminating the need for expensive, third-party alternatives. It also provides Red Hat Global File System (GFS) and Red Hat Cluster Suite as a part of the solution without added fees.

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform allowed us to carve costs out of our deployment because we were able to consolidate servers and use a leading, high-performing virtualisation solution that came built-in as part of the solution without us needing to buy from another vendor,” said Lam.

The University was also impressed by the scalability of its new virtualised environment. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Platform’s virtualization capabilities accommodated the architecture’s current data load of about 15 gigabytes, as the University continues to grow and incorporate new video and other rich data formats, it will scale up to several terabytes of data without any configuration change.

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