University of Memphis: Expanding Network Opts for New Switch

The University of Memphis has become one of the largest universities in the southeastern United States. As the campus has expanded, so has its network infrastructure. Managing the growing number of Wintel servers that support production and development-level applications used by various administrative units—increasing from 22 servers only two years ago, to the current 41—presented a challenge to the IT department.

As the university has broadened, so have the school’s IT needs in accessing and controlling the growing number of servers on the Wintel platform. According to Robert Jackson, Systems Administrator, University of Memphis, one particularly daunting task was managing different levels of access to servers and network devices for the different user groups. "The old model of having bulky cables for these systems became unmanageable over a period of time. We needed a scalable KVM [Keyboard Video Mouse] solution that could grow with us," explains Jackson.

Investigating a Solution
Jackson set out to find a switch that would suit their needs of scalability, simultaneous accessibility, and efficiency. He did his homework on KVM vendors, looking through trade magazine ads and from there, posting to user groups, public forums and chat rooms asking users from other universities about their KVM configurations. A number of postings pointed to Raritan Computer Inc. (www.raritan.com) as the ideal solution, explaining that it was expensive but worth the functionality and good, quality equipment.

After about a month of waiting for purchasing approval, Jackson was able to select Raritan’s Paragon with Cat5 Simplicity, adding the TeleReach remote access option. Implementation was smooth and simple: Jackson opened the box, plugged everything in, experimented for about two hours, and within one to two days, the servers were configured.

His KVM configuration consists of one Paragon, one TeleReach and two user stations. Jackson has one user station for local console access in the server room and the other one works with the TeleReach unit for remote access.

"The Raritan solution enables us to manage our network devices without having to physically travel to the server room," explains Jackson. The systems administrators are also able to see the boot-up sequence from their desks, rather than having to be sitting in front of the local console.

Added Benefits
Using TeleReach, Jackson and his team can easily maintain and build their servers because more than one systems administrator can access them at the same time. This was a great feature, as they wanted the ability to have multiple systems administrators access the KVM switches simultaneously. This has reduced the amount of time they spend in the server room, as well as the time it takes to re-configure anything on the server, because they no longer have to wait for one person to finish their work.

In addition, Jackson was able to address his user access issues using Paragon’s built-in user authorization schemes. With this tool, he can set the levels and types of access for each user or group of users, regardless of where they are on campus. For added security, Jackson has chosen to give only select users authorization to access the servers remotely via TeleReach.

Full Speed Ahead
As its operations continue to grow in size and complexity, the University of Memphis expects to expand its current KVM configuration, ordering another Paragon to link the products together. Jackson plans to use the Paragon Computer Interface Modules (CIMs), which provide seamless access to any server, independent of the platform or connection. This will enable him to disconnect the server from the KVM switch without rebooting the server to detect the keyboard/mouse.

Jackson has been able to decrease the cables in his racks, while also seeing significant improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of his IT operations since installing Paragon.

For more information, contact Robert Jackson, Systems Administrator, University of Memphis, at rjax@memphis.edu.

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