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Research and Administrative Computing: Two Factors Driving Next Generation Data Centers

October 29, 2010 - 0 Comments

Data center managers consistently juggle two sides of the Higher Ed computing coin: keeping costs under control while meeting an increasing demand for computing resources.  Gerry McCartney, Vice President for IT, CIO and Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology at Purdue University, one of the leading research institutions in the United States, with 40,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff, says, “On the research side, [researchers will] consume all the cycles you can give them.”

In addition, their demands are unpredictable and vary by grant availability or research results, thereby requiring a high level of flexibility. 

Data center managers need to be able to dynamically provision and de-provision data center resources to meet demand when required and to scale back when demand wanes.  University administrators, on the other hand, have predictable but inflexible demands with applications such as course management systems, ERP, streaming educational video, student services and building control “Availability is key. It’s got to be there when they want it,” says Derek Masseth, Senior Director, Infrastructure Services at the University of Arizona


Further, “If a student service isn’t working, or the course management system goes down or the ERP system is slow, thousands of users may be affected, and all of it boils down to a revenue hit, either immediate or long term. The pressure for 24/7 reliability is tremendous.”

The ever-increasing computing demands of both types of users are driving higher-education data centers towards the cloud and a service-oriented architecture.

To this end, IT shops in these institutions are moving towards 10 Gigabit Ethernet to support increasing virtualization of every aspect of the infrastructure via unified fabric and unified computing strategies: network, servers, storage and more.

Because any given set of users or projects may fall anywhere along a continuum between the two cultures, data center upgrades can’t take a “one size fits all” approach, and it may be either research or administration that drives particular upgrades or new construction.

At Purdue, research has been a big data center driver, as illustrated by the university’s recent adoption of Cisco Nexus switches for a 1280-node 10 Gigabit research server cluster, called the “Coates Cluster” after the former head of Purdue’s electrical engineering department. Read more at


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