January 29, 2014
University learns to live off of the MPE grid
One of the most forward-looking pioneers of the HP 3000 community shut off its servers last month, ending a 37-year run of service. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT staff, including its networking maven Jeff Kell, has switched over fully to Linux-based computing and an off the shelf application.
UTC, as Kell and his crew calls the school, has beefed up its server count by a factor of more than 10:1 as a byproduct of its transition. This kind of sea change is not unusual for a migration to Unix and Oracle solutions. HP 3000s tend to be single-server installations, or multiples in very large configurations. But to get to a count of 43 servers, IT architecture has to rethink the idea of a server (sometimes just a blade in an enclosure) and often limits the server to exclusive tasks.
After decades of custom-crafted applications, UTC is running fully "on Banner, which has been SunGuard in the past," Kell said. "I believe it's now called now Ellucian. They keep getting bought out." But despite the changes, the new applications are getting the same jobs done that the HP 3000s performed since the 1970s.
The heyday of the HP 3000 lasted until about 2009 or so, when UTC got all of the Banner applications up and running, Kell reports. Banner -- well, Ellucian -- has many modules. Like a lot of migrating sites that have chosen replacement software off the shelf, the transition was a stepwise affair.
It's Linux / Oracle replacing it. The configuration was originally Dell servers (a lot of them), but most of it is virtualized on ESXi/vCenter, fed by a large EMC SAN. They got some server hardware refreshed recently, and got Cisco UCS blade servers. I'm sure they're well into seven figures on the replacement hardware and software alone. I've lost count of how many people they have on staff for the care and feeding of it all. It's way more than our old 3000 crew, which was basically six people.
The 3000 was still pretty heavily used until 3-4 years ago, when they got all of Banner up and running. The 3000 continued to do some batch transfers, and our Identity Management. The 3000 was the "authoritative" source of demographics and user accounts, but they are now using Novell's Identity management -- which bridges Banner/Oracle with Active Directory, faculty/staff in Exchange, and the student accounts in Google Mail.
We had dedicated 3000s in the past for Academics. They later jumped on an IBM system, then Solaris for a time, and now Linux. We also had one for our Library catalog and circulation (running VTLS software), but they later jumped on the Oracle bandwagon. More recently, the whole module for the library has been outsourced to a cloud service.
Even in the days when the 3000 ruled at UTC, there were steps in a transition. "I think we peaked at seven 3000s briefly while we were in transition -- the days we were moving from our old Classic HP 3000 hardware to the then-new Series 950 RISC systems," Kell said. "After the delays in the 3000 RISC system deliveries and the promises HP had made, they loaned us a Series 52 and a 58, so we could keep pace with production while waiting on PA-RISC."
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