Cornell Buys A 64-Bit Computer - InformationWeek

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10/24/2003
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Cornell Buys A 64-Bit Computer

University's research institute shifts from Dell servers to a big Wintel machine from Unisys

Cornell University researchers need large amounts of computing power to do their work. Some of the data sets its researchers work with are larger than 2 Gbytes, too much for its 32-bit Intel-based servers to handle quickly. So the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research decided to introduce 64-bit computing.

But rather than adding new 64-bit two- or four-way servers, the institute opted for one large Intel- based server that could accommodate both 32-bit and 64-bit apps. The research institute next month will deploy a Unisys ES7000 Orion 560 running Windows Server 2003, Data Center Edition, which has 16 32-bit Intel Xeon MP processors and eight 64-bit Itanium 2 processors. It will replace a dozen 4-year-old Dell PowerEdge servers.

"If I can manage everything through one box, why would I manage it through 12 boxes?" asks Janet Heslop, the institute's computing systems manager.

More than 500 research-institute users use statistical-analysis apps, and Heslop considered installing a cluster of smaller Intel-based servers. But "clustering works better when you have a few users running huge workloads," she says. "We have many users with smaller jobs."

Cornell in 1981 established the research institute to provide the school's social scientists with, among other things, access to data archives and statistical-analysis software. The researchers use a spectrum of data, including federal or state censuses, files derived from administrative records, and public-opinion surveys, along with economic and social data from a variety of organizations.

The research institute wants to stay with Windows so it can continue to run software from Aptech Systems, SAS Institute, and others through Microsoft Terminal Services. "For our users, that means a whole bunch, because training is easier in the Windows environment," Heslop says. "Our users are just trying to do research; they're not as computer literate as an engineer would be." The Windows environment also is consistent with other computing facilities on the university's campus, including Cornell's Theory Center.

The move to 64-bit Itanium processors also lets the research institute give users access to SAS 9.0, in addition to the 8.2 version already running in the 32-bit environment. "The big appeal to this is that we can serve such a wide range of users," says Carol Murphree, the research institute's computing consulting-services manager. "Some jobs are much better suited for Xeon and don't need the overhead of a 64-bit processor." In fact, migrating the entire IT environment to 64-bit processors would have slowed down less CPU- or memory-intensive apps.

For the institute, the 24-way ES7000, which costs $225,000, also marks a move back to a consolidated server architecture. Until 1999, the institute ran its apps on a Unix-based IBM RS/6000 server. The institute moved to a Windows-Intel environment when a cost analysis indicated that such a migration would be cheaper than buying the necessary RS/6000 memory upgrades.

The conversion to the ES7000 is good news for Unisys, which wants to use its stable hardware business as the foundation for its growing services business. For the third quarter, ended Sept. 30, Unisys saw year-to-year increases in services and hardware. Services revenue was up 11% to $1.1 billion, while hardware sales increased 3% to $325 million.

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