Published on 15-Jun-2010
Validated on 04 Sep 2012
"We’ve got a consolidated platform that will be supported for years to come…and that meets all our computing requirements in a simple, cost-effective way." - Thomas Pallis, IS Manager, PHEFA and SPSBA
Pennsylvania Higher Education
IBM Business Partner:
The Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority (PHEFA) and the State Public School Building Authority (SPSBA) have a vital role to play in the state’s educational system–they provide tax-exempt financing for Pennsylvania Colleges and Universities, as well as school districts.
The Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority and the State Public School Building Authority had an underutilized, complex IT infra-structure, with one server running near maximum capacity while others lay almost dormant. This was causing reliability and manageability issues that hampered business operations.
SolutionThe Authority teamed with IBM to deploy a virtualized, consolidated IBM BladeCenter® solution that improves uptime and flexibility while simplifying the infrastructure. The system, running multiple operating systems concurrently, houses the organization’s J.D. Edwards World enterprise suite along with a number of support applications.
• Provides significantly higher availability–over five months, Windows applications remained online an extra 20 hours compared to the previous standalone server. • Enables greater flexibility, allowing managers to add new, virtual servers quickly and transparently to accommodate future requirements • Eases management and maintenance, making the most of limited IT staffing resources • Consolidates and simplifies the infrastructure, improving utilization, availability and reliability.
A small but critical organization
The Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority (PHEFA) and the State Public School Building Authority (SPSBA) have a vital role to play in the state’s educational system–they provide tax-exempt financing for Pennsylvania Colleges and Universities, as well as school districts. Acting as essential conduits for funding, the Authorities are empowered by the state to issue bonds on behalf of educational institutions in order to raise capital for new construction.
Though their activities involve large sums of money and affect many thousands of students, educators and bondholders across the state, the two Authorities are a single organization based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, employing less than a dozen individuals.
To accomplish its mission, the organization has long used J.D. Edwards enterprise software, according to Thomas Pallis, IS Manager for PHEFA and SPSBA. “We’ve been using J.D. Edwards World running on dedicated IBM hardware for our core requirements – essentially all of the financial modules–since mid-1998,” he says. “The platform has served us well.” World is ideally suited for the needs of small organizations, with its inherent ease of management and support for critical business processes.
A lack of reliability affects service
Pallis says that though the J.D. Edwards suite and IBM server on which it ran functioned very well, the other parts of the IT infrastructure posed some challenges. “We were approaching a turning point in terms of our extended infrastructure–the systems that run our supporting applications, such as Web servers, DNS servers, Microsoft® Exchange, and so on. We had reliability issues that were affecting our ability to respond to clients. System management was also taking up too much of our limited resources.”
The reliability and management issues, says Pallis, stemmed from server sprawl and the consequent poor utilization of resources. “We had an Intel® box that was running near 100 percent load at all times, while others sat idle more than 90 percent of the time. It was a tremen-dous waste, and as a result, the Intel server was having uptime issues.
More important than that, we had a lot of dependencies within the infrastructure that made it very difficult to track down problems. When one of the Windows® applications would go down–which happened several times a month, requiring a reboot–it could take other things with it and it was tough to locate the root cause because so many applications were running on that one Intel server. It was as if we were living on borrowed time.”
Seizing an opportunity
Before coming to Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority, Pallis had gained experience in virtualization. This was the key, he believed, to building a simpler and more robust infrastructure. “If we could reduce the number of servers and virtualize them, we’d be able to meet all of our challenges in one fell swoop,” he says. “We’d eliminate the dependencies that were hampering our availability and improve our utilization and efficiency at the same time.”
While upgrading the infrastructure would address the organization’s IT issues, doing so would require a significant investment; it was not a decision to be made lightly. A powerful business reason arose, however, in the form of expiring software licenses on the existing systems. The organization could renew them, or invest in a new, more efficient and streamlined infrastructure. “We met with IBM to explore our options, and in the end the decision was straightforward,” says Pallis. “The new infrastructure meant a greater up-front expenditure, but it would give us immediate operational benefits in terms of reliability, as well as ‘future-proofing’ our systems by making them much easier to upgrade down the road. That helps ensure that we’re able to deliver the level of prompt and accurate service our clients expect, now and in years to come.”
Finding the right server platform
The existing infrastructure was not virtualized, relying instead on a diverse collection of servers to run the applications needed to support the agencies. Just as before, the new infrastructure would need to be able to handle IBM i–the operating system on which J.D. Edwards World runs–along with UNIX® and Windows for additional sup-porting applications.
Choosing IBM hardware and software also leveraged the organization’s strong in-house IBM skills. Pallis was very comfortable with IBM systems; he had been working with IBM products for years and had a background as an IBM AIX® administrator, so it was a logical move to bring the organization’s UNIX workloads onto an IBM platform.
“I had been considering a standalone IBM server,” Pallis says, “But the IBM team looked at our current and future needs and made a compelling case for going with BladeCenter as a more cost-effective solution, as well as one that would be better over the long term.”
The team recommended a single BladeCenter S chassis housing two IBM blades, one based on the POWER™ processor architecture to run the J.D. Edwards and AIX workloads, and the other based on Intel, to run a variety of Windows applications.
BladeCenter S is an all-in-one chassis that offers built-in storage to accommodate the IBM DB2® database that underlies the J.D. Edwards World suite, as well as networking hardware and expansion for addi-tional blades, should they prove necessary in the future. “With IBM BladeCenter, we’ve got the peace of mind that there’s a clear technology roadmap in place for future development and the built-in ability to simply plug in new or additional blades when we need to, instead of ripping and replacing entire servers as we once did,” Pallis says.
Flexibility is the key
With BladeCenter, Pallis says he gets the best of all worlds. “All of our utilization and dependency problems have been eliminated with this new platform,” he says. “We haven’t had a single unplanned outage to date, and our utilization across the board is at roughly 70 percent–right where we want it to be. That gives us room to add new workloads if we need to, while at the same time we don’t have too much capacity sitting idle.”
Pallis especially appreciates the ease of management offered by IBM virtualization technology. “We can break out our different functions onto discrete servers, so if one application goes down we have it isolated. For example, on our Windows blade we’ve got five separate servers running everything from file and print servers to our Microsoft Exchange server,” he says. “Virtualization also helps us tremendously when it comes time to deploy new software. It’s a simple matter to stand up an additional, virtual server when needed.”
The POWER blade runs two AIX servers for the organization’s Web sites and external DNS servers, and two i servers for J.D. Edwards World production and test environments. “We’ve never had the luxury of a test environment for World before, because we needed our exist-ing server capacity for our production environment and could not justify an additional server just for test purposes; applying patches and upgrades was always a bit risky as a result. That’s the kind of thing that virtualization does for us.”
A right-sized solution
Pallis concludes by pointing to the value of the combined J.D. Edwards and IBM enterprise solution for small organizations like his. “There are many businesses out there much like us, running J.D. Edwards World with limited resources and limited staff. World is an ideal enterprise suite for operations of this size, but to get its full benefit it’s necessary to have an infrastructure that complements it–an IT platform that delivers business value on many fronts. It has to be stable, reliable, manageable and flexible. And it has to reduce your risk and protect your investment. That’s what IBM BladeCenter gives us.
“We’ve got a consolidated platform that will be supported for years to come…and that meets all our computing requirements in a simple, cost-effective way.”—Thomas Pallis, IS Manager, PHEFA and SPSBA
Solution components Servers• IBM BladeCenter® S Software• IBM AIX®• IBM DB2®• IBM i®• J.D. Edwards World
We’ve got a consolidated platform that will be supported for years to come, that can be readily upgraded or scaled without having to be completely replaced, and that meets all our computing requirements in a simple, cost-effective way.”
Products and services used
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