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Tulane U Creates 40 Gbit 'Science DMZ' for Off-Campus Researchers

As part of a three-and-a-half-year overhaul of its IT systems, Tulane University in Louisiana has created a high-speed network for researchers working across town and is gearing up to upgrade the campus network to dual 100 gigabit--up from a single 100 megabit connection in 2009. All the while, the university cut data center power use roughly in half.

When Charlie McMahon arrived at Tulane University in 2009 and toured the data center for which he would be responsible as the school's new chief technology officer and vice president of information technology, he was not happy.

"It was packed," McMahon recalled. "Virtually no floor space. Some of the servers were nine or 10 years old. I had a 15U Sun server that was running about 2,000 mailboxes. And we were drawing 85 percent to 90 percent of the available power. I'm thinking, I've got to have a new data center now."

Three and a half years later, thanks to a strategic partnership with a highly enterprise-focused Dell, the hardware footprint of the Tulane data center is smaller, it's consuming less than 45 percent of the available power, and the facility will probably last another decade.

"Actually, over that decade we will be moving more of our enterprise applications into the cloud," McMahon told Campus Technology," so we may never have to build a new data center."

McMahon was one of several Dell customers on hand at the company's recent Enterprise Strategy Update event in San Francisco. During the event, Dell unveiled a new line of "purpose built" solutions under the Active Infrastructure brand. Marius Haas, president of Dell's enterprise solutions group, described the product lineup as "a family of intuitive, flexible, and comprehensive converged infrastructure systems" that "combines servers, storage, networking, and infrastructure management into an integrated system for delivering virtualized resource pools that are ideal for private clouds, virtual desktop infrastructure, and enterprise applications."

The new product line includes the new Active System 800, which combines Dell servers, storage, and network technologies in a pre-assembled rack, and Active System Manager, a provisioning tool designed to automate the configuring of servers in this "converged infrastructure."

Dell has had the enterprise in its sights ever since Michael Dell returned full-time in 2007 to the company he founded, largely pursuing a strategy of building end-to-end business solutions. The company has supported that aim with a number of strategic acquisitions, including among others: Dell KACE, a systems management and deployment appliance company; Quest Software, a provider of databases and cloud services; Wyse, maker of VDI and thin-client tech; Boomi, a provider of on-demand integration tech and the industry's first integration platform-as-a-service; and Force10 Networks, a maker of 10 gigabit and 40 gigabit Ethernet switches.

Tulane's McMahon was quick to admit that "Dell" isn't the first name that jumps to mind when the conversation turns to enterprise networking, but he was also quick to take advantage of the capabilities of the Force10 switches to solve a particularly knotty problem in his university's network. Tulane's oak-and-ivy-covered Uptown New Orleans campus is connected to a Health Sciences campus in the downtown central business district. The downtown campus comprises the school of medicine, the school of public health, and some research facilities. The two are about six miles apart, and both were served by a 100 megabit connection--and so was the rest of the school, including nearly 13,000 students and 4,400 employees.

"If you needed to get to any of our enterprise solutions, you did it over that connection," McMahon said. "It was terrible."

In addition to upping the overall campus bandwidth, first to a 1 gigabit, then to a 10 gigabit (and soon, a dual 100 gigabit) connection, McMahon and his staff used the Dell solution to create a "Science DMZ" for the downtown researchers.

"The scientists needed to move these big packets of data among each other and to big data centers," he explained. "The payload was so big that they got a big performance hit when they ran it through my enterprise security system. And the rest of the traffic was dramatically degraded. So we carved out the DMZ, a pipe that runs directly into the scientists' laboratories or offices. We're now giving individual researchers a 10 [gigabit] to 40 gigabit connection directly to their desktops."

Tulane was also one of the first universities in the country to implement a "Voice in the Cloud" Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) service, a hosted VoIP PBX. McMahon serves on the Internet2 Advisory Council. He said that more and more universities are implementing virtual segregation of this kind of scientific traffic on their networks.

"It's true that they're helping me to drive costs out of my operations," McMahon said, "but the thing that makes the biggest difference to me is the relationship I have with Dell. When we come into a project, we come in as partners and assess the risks we're taking and share those risks. It's just not a typical customer/vendor relationship."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.

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