July 9, 2013

Oklahoma University Drives Productivity With Commercial Linux

Alex Woodie

The egalitarian nature of open source software makes it a great match for academic institutions that value the unrestricted flow of ideas. This is what makes free versions of Linux so popular at universities across the country. But when it came to running HPC and business workloads, the Oklahoma University opted for the fully supported version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

The OU began using Red Hat Linux back in 2002, when the OU Supercomputing Center for Education & Research (OSCER) became one of the first in the nation to open a Pentium 4 Xeon cluster, which ran the community version of Red Hat Linux, according to a recent story in FutureGov.

The use of Linux spread in 2007, when the university’s IT department began a project to migrate core applications, including PeopleSoft enterprise applications and the university’s main its website, away from Sun Solaris and SPARC hardware. The proprietary nature of the Sun hardware and the high licensing and support costs were the primary reasons for the move, Elliott Robertson, an IT analyst on the UNIX team within the OU IT department, told FutureGov.

At the time, OSCER was struggling a bit to supports its Linux environment. Since the enterprise applications were also being transitioned to Linux, the decision was made to subscribe to Red Hat’s enterprise distribution for UO’s entire IT department–including the supercomputer and PeopleSoft apps, as well as a new Sungard Higher Education Banner environment the university was implementing. 

“We needed the advantages that came from commercial-class support, which translated into the all the patches that went into the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributed kernel,” Brandon George, OSCER’s manager of operations, told FutureGov.

Today, OU’s PeopleSoft and Sungard applications execute in a Red Hat Enterprise Linux environment running on Dell PowerEdge servers. The IT team is able to manage more than 200 Red Hat Linux servers–including an implementation of Oracle’s Real Application Clusters (RAC) software to boost business continuity–with a minimum number of operators and administrators. It’s even able to provide rapid deployment of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) environments for use by individual departments at the university.

By leaning on Red Hat for the core OS maintenance, the OSCER IT team has more time to spend helping researchers design and run HPC applications and get published, Dr. Henry Neeman, OSCER’s founding director, told FutureGov.

“In principle, we could build everything from source, which would be quite labor intensive. Some institutions that do that are very successful. But what that would mean, in practice, is that we’d have no time to help our users be productive,” Neeman said in the case study. “We don’t have an unlimited budget. The technology choices we make represent balances and tradeoffs.”

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