Taking Preventive Action Against Performance Problems

Loyola has four campuses, three in the greater Chicago area and the Rome Center in Italy. Loyola’s nine schools and colleges include arts and sciences, business administration, education, graduate studies, law, medicine, nursing, professional studies and social work. Loyola's total enrollment is 13,000 students, which includes 7,500 undergraduates; students represent 50 states and territories, and 82 foreign countries.

Loyola University-Chicago was jumping from the mainframe computer era straight into the Internet age. Loyola University-Chicago had decided to decommission its old main frame and set up a three-tier architecture on its metro-area network, which links three city campuses. The Peoplesoft 8 family of Web-enabled enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications would be the foundation of an administrative portal enabling students to register online for classes, view grades, read campus news, seek financial aid, deal with billing issues and more.
Though Peoplesoft 8 was an emerging solution for educational institutions, a number of other schools had already taken the leap. But rumor had it that the new applications were plagued by performance problems.

“We’d heard some universities had just kept adding more servers to try to speed application access, but it wasn't helping,” said Jerry Sanders, Loyola's chief information officer. “So we went in knowing that, even if we acquired a lot of server hardware, we would still have to deal with application performance issues. We had no mechanism in place to do any load balancing, a capability we knew would be critical.”

Then Sanders and his staff came across an article detailing the deployment of Peoplesoft 8 by another school, Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara had been one of the earliest users of the Web-enabled version of the popular Peoplesoft ERP application suite, and had tried a number of solutions, including adding servers and using performance management/tuning software. Finally they had installed a new network appliance from Redline Networks of Campbell, Calif. (designs and manufactures network appliances) Redline’s E|X 3250 enterprise application processor is a multi-function platform that performs load balancing, data compression, TCP connection management and other server-offload tasks. Santa Clara’s application performance problems had disappeared.

Voice of Experience Leads Loyola to Solution

Before putting the E|X 3250 to work in front of Peoplesoft 8, Loyola's manager of server operations tested the unit on the university’s internal GroupWise e-mail/collaboration application. The E|X 3250 was installed in February 2004 between Loyola’s routers/switches and two GroupWise Web servers. “We had been looking at adding another Web server for GroupWise—at a cost of at least $7,500—and possibly a dedicated load balancer as well,” Sanders said. “But after the Redline was installed, users immediately commented that they saw a big performance improvement. They assumed we had put in a new server.”

The success with GroupWise gave Walt Slazyk, Loyola’s Peoplesoft systems administrator, “the confidence to move forward with spring registration.” A second Redline E|X 3250 was installed in front of the university’s Peoplesoft 8 Web servers in March 2004, just weeks before the early April undergraduate registration for fall classes was to begin.

Fast Portal Access Regardless of Connection Speed

The Redline E|X 3250 brought several other key benefits. Previously Loyola’s WebLogic servers had performed data compression, which had led to server errors in some users’ Web browsers; once compression was offloaded onto the E|X 3250 (and turned off on the servers), those errors disappeared. Also, because of some graphics-heavy pages on the registration Web site, Slazyk had expected complaints about response time from those users with slow dial-up connections. But the anticipated gripes didn’t materialize.

Additionally, bandwidth usage for the applications was reduced resulting in significant cost savings. The Redline E|X 3250 has eliminated the need to purchase additional servers and provided a “safety net” for Loyola’s Peoplesoft deployment,” Sanders said. “Having fewer servers has saved us expensive software licensing fees. And the powerful load balancing capability has made server maintenance much easier. We can bring one server offline for maintenance, then put it back and take out another, with no interruption in service. And the E|X 3250 is easy to manage centrally through a Web interface.

Future plans call for the Redline units to be put to work accelerating two additional Web servers that host Loyola’s main public-facing Web pages.

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