Campus Technology FocusCampus Technology Focus

March 26, 2009

Sun's Matching Grant Program Breaks the Sound Barrier

Rocket-powered spaceflight is so 1960s. Research labs working at hypersonic speed are advancing the science of supersonic combustion ramjet engines, or scramjets, the technology that someday may take astronauts to Mars or power commercial aircraft. Already, an unmanned NASA X-43A scramjet aircraft has flown at Mach 9.6, nearly 10 times the speed of sound. That's 7,000 miles per hour, or New York to Los Angeles in 21 minutes.

With the enormous clusters of computing power required to support the mathematical modeling and analysis underlying this research, it's no surprise that the University of Minnesota was cutting costs—and sacrificing quality—by acquiring no-name white-box servers. Thanks to the Sun Matching Grant Program, that's no longer necessary. Fortunately, any college or K-12 school, not just those doing space-travel research, can enjoy the very same savings.

Believing that Sun was simply too expensive—even with the standard education discount—and willing to sacrifice system reliability for more horsepower by choosing cheaper products, Graham Candler PhD, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Minnesota, previously bought large-scale computing clusters from white-box vendors. But no more.

In 2008, through the Sun Matching Grant Program, Candler's team acquired 288 Sun Fire X2200 M2 servers with quad-core processors, assembling them into a single large-scale Linux high-performance cluster. Among the cluster's first projects: the largest-ever calculations to model space-shuttle simulations for an upcoming NASA mission. The Sun cluster is also being used for research in high-temperature gas dynamics and plasmadynamics, along with spacecraft re-entry and hypersonic aerodynamics.

"The Matching Grant Program allowed us to buy a lot more horsepower than we possibly could have otherwise," says Candler, "It was an incredibly good deal that allowed us to increase the scale of our system by a substantial margin, do more calculations, and solve larger problems."

Available for K-12 schools and colleges, the 2009 version of the Sun Matching Grant Program offers discounts of up to 50 percent off the list price of many products. Running through June 19, the program covers many Sun servers, storage subsystems, and workstations. This year Sun is expanding the program to include Sun software suites that improve performance and simplify management. Created to assure that economic issues do not stand in the way of educational excellence, the program makes it more affordable for institutions to create scalable, high-performance, low Total Cost of Ownership learning environments.

Earthly Applications

Though most universities' and K-12 schools' goals are more earthbound and considerably less exotic, the Matching Grant Program is just as beneficial.

At Lehigh University's Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Sun products are used in the departmental infrastructure, in labs where programming courses are taught, and in five research labs.

"When I sit down and compare, feature for feature and item for item, the products that Sun offers in the Matching Grant Program to the pricing I can get from other vendors for functionally identical equipment in the same class, the Matching Grant Program is simply unbeatable," says department Systems Manager Bryan Hodgson. Though Lehigh buys its desktop PCs from a different source, Hodgson says, "If you're purchasing workstations, or as we did, servers and disk sub-systems, we know that through the program we'll get the best pricing available anywhere on certain classes of equipment."

K-12 schools also are leveraging the power of the Matching Grant Program.

California's Barstow Unified School District, encompassing 12 schools and 7,800 students, implemented a district-wide, fully redundant, virtualized Network-Attached Storage (NAS) system in two locations using four storage servers purchased through the program. Able to retire the old storage system which had a physical server in every school, the Sun system runs on just one physical server (and a backup) on which a virtual machine is defined for each school. Two Sun Fire X4500 storage servers plus two X4600 servers acting as backups will meet the district's needs for the foreseeable future.

"We had never been a Sun customer, so when we heard about this program we approached them," says Jeff Malan, the district's Director of Technology & Information Services. "We've received great support from everyone."

A steady customer of another technology vendor for nine years, the allure of the Matching Grant Program simply made the all-Sun NAS solution irresistible. "When we looked at what was available with the Sun program, we could not pass it up." As for a counteroffer from the district's longtime provider, Malan says they "could not offer us a comparable product at anywhere near the price Sun offered."

These three very different institutions, planning interplanetary travel, equipping labs, and updating storage, all benefitted profoundly through the Sun Matching Grant Program, as have hundreds of other's during the program's first five years. No matter what your server, storage, workstation, or other network computing needs are, this is the time to buy. The 2009 Sun Matching Grant Program runs now through June 19.

For more information on Sun's matching grant program please go to:

Sun Microsystems, Inc.
5300 Riata Park Ct.
Austin, TX 78727

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