Texas Tech University has found that just as in the corporate world, the excuse of a tight IT budget doesnt cut it when pumped-up student users want high-quality services dished up anytime.
The school needed to run a high-availability Web portal at a reasonable cost. The Raiderlink portal would serve Texas Techs large student population, which numbers 27,000, by serving up course schedules, grades, scholarship status and sporting information. It would also be used to recruit and enroll students, procure goods to keep their school running, and solicit the lifeblood of donations from them when they graduate.
As befits college students, the visitors to the schools portal want to access that information at any hour, be it 2 p.m. after class or 3 a.m. after course work is done.
To meet its scalability and availability goals, Texas Tech turned to Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i database with RAC (Real Application Clusters) running on Linux. According to Brandon LaBonte, director of software development at Texas Tech, running Raiderlink on Linux delivers high availability and high scalability in a package of commodity hardware that conforms to the schools constricted budget.
“Linux allows us to get a level of high availability and scalability that historically would require proprietary and fairly expensive hardware and software,” said LaBonte, in Lubbock. “This has been really good, especially on the high-availability side. We dont have huge dollars to spend, as corporate America does. Or did.”
The decision to turn to clustering technology was also triggered by the need for high availability. That, mixed with the need for scalability, is a typical motivation for those organizations that turn to clusters, said Mark Shaman, an analyst for Meta Group Inc., in Los Angeles.
“Most organizations can get a tremendous amount of scale out of a server. An eight-way box can meet over 90 percent of workloads in an organization,” Shaman said. “What we see organizations looking at RAC for is availability joined with scalability—i.e., they can get some utility out of that secondary node that in many cases would sit there and do nothing.”
Portability was a big factor in the decision to go with Oracle on Linux, LaBonte said, with its ability to communicate with boxes running Linux, Windows and Solaris. Oracle RAC on Linux also takes in stride the fact that the midtier is using the Apache Web server and Tomcat Java engine.
Institutions of higher education are economically hobbled much like the private sector. According to Ron Police, senior vice president of higher- education sales for Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., average endowments have dropped 5 percent since the economy went south, with some institutions witnessing stock-market-induced dips of up to 30 percent. Police has seen IT budgets at colleges and universities reduced by as much as 10 or 20 percent as a result.
Because of budget constraints, schools including the University of Maine, Michigans Lansing Community College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are turning to Linux, Police said.
Texas Tech began implementation of Oracle RAC about 15 months ago. With help from Oracle, it took eight weeks to get the system up and running—all accomplished without a service disruption.
The result is a RAC setup that handles failover within 60 seconds and powers a Web site that stays up round-the-clock, even as it receives its typical hit rate of between 12 and 15 hits per second.
LaBonte is bracing for the onslaught from the students, who are expected to number 29,000 this fall and who are set to pound on the Raiderlink portal at any hour of their caffeine-fueled days.
Will the portal be ready for them?
“I hope so,” LaBonte said, a slight quaver in his voice.