Higher Education Finds a Cost-Effective Route to IT Modernization

The North Carolina Community College System Partners with Alphanumeric to Deploy Fujitsu M10/Ellucian Solution to Cut Campus Operating Costs, Reduce Energy Usage

In higher education, IT departments face tight budgets and a relentless focus on controlling costs. At the same time, technology is increasingly critical to meeting the varied needs of institutions, students, and faculty. As a result, IT departments are constantly trying to deliver both greater efficiency and better service—and that’s a big challenge.

The North Carolina Community College (NCCC) System is no stranger to that challenge—and it has found an effective solution. This third-largest community college system in the U.S. is made up of a network of 58 colleges serving almost 800,000 students across the state. To keep IT departments in step with the evolving demands of higher education, to date more than 40 colleges in the system have modernized their IT infrastructures using compact and powerful Fujitsu M10 SPARC-based servers running Ellucian higher education software.

Working with Raleigh, North Carolina-based Alphanumeric Systems, Inc.—a Gold-level member in Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN)—the community colleges have implemented Fujitsu M10 servers as part of a state-of-the-art higher-education platform that helps reduce costs, boost productivity, and ensure student success and effective day-to-day campus administration.

A Smooth Transition to a Complete Solution

The North Carolina Community College System offers high-quality, accessible educational opportunities to the surrounding communities through education, training, and retraining for the workforce, including basic skills and literacy education, and occupational and pre-baccalaureate programs. To support their mission, numerous community colleges in the system wanted to modernize their IT infrastructure. They were using older, rack mountable Sun Enterprise 450 and Sun Fire V890 servers from Sun Microsystems and other SPARC Enterprise servers, which had been in place for many years. The colleges were looking for a solution that would provide increased performance, and help reduce operating expenses while improving service to the colleges’ various users.

The Fujitsu M10 servers provide a cost effective entry point for achieving both the efficiency and performance the colleges wanted. “The Fujitsu M10 server is an ideal platform for higher-education institutions because of its energy-efficient green technologies, powerful performance, and low price point,” says Rob Vanderberry, senior account executive at Alphanumeric Systems. “In addition, the Fujitsu M10 is quickly becoming the state standard for production servers and in many cases, for disaster recovery and test environments, since the likelihood of hurricanes and other natural disasters remains high.”

With help from Alphanumeric, the colleges saw a smooth transition as they adopted either Fujitsu M10-1 or Fujitsu M10-4 servers. “Alphanumeric has deep technical knowledge,” says Linda McDaniel, director of Information Services at Catawba Valley Community College. “They planned, scripted, and automated everything for us, including two trial runs and a final production run, to make sure everything was in order when we went live.”

Alphanumeric’s approach not only streamlined implementation, it also helped ensure that the solution was designed for the long-term. According to Wayman White, director of Information Services at College of the Albemarle, “Alphanumeric not only helped us through the whole process of deploying the solution, but they also help keep us ‘ahead of the curve’ by asking questions in anticipation of future trends and policies.”

The result of these efforts was a complete solution based on the Fujitsu M10 servers, Oracle Solaris, Oracle VM Server for SPARC, and comprehensive software from Ellucian, a leading provider of higher-education software. The new platform is being used to manage day-to-day campus business processes, including student admissions and registration, accounting, payroll, and human resources.

The Payoff of Modernization

The Fujitsu M10 server and Ellucian software solution are now in place at more than 40 of the 58 colleges so far, with more to deploy in the future as existing and aging hardware systems need modernization.

The new infrastructure has brought improvements on several fronts—starting with better throughput and faster response times. “The Fujitsu M10-1 is a workhorse server, and its increase in speed over our previous solution is a big plus,” says White. In addition, the servers employ high-availability principles at all levels, from the processor chip to the system design, which helps deliver 24/7 uptime for critical campus applications.”

“Knock on wood, but with the Fujitsu M10, we’ve never had to place a service call, never had to replace a hard drive,” said Dustin Howell, systems administrator at Mitchell Community College.

Added Ronnie Bryant, CIO of Brunswick Community College, “We’ve had no support issues whatsoever with the Fujitsu M10 servers. In fact, they’ve only been down one time, and that’s because we lost power to the building – I’d call that 99.99% reliability.”

The system’s performance is especially key to keeping pace with peak workloads during enrollment and end-of-year activities—and ultimately, to providing effective service to students and staff. Furthermore, adds White, the servers deliver all of this very efficiently: “Our old V890 system took up half the rack, while the new Fujitsu M10-1 is significantly smaller and uses just one small slot.”

Just as important, the Fujitsu servers provide the flexibility needed to meet evolving needs, such as rising workloads and growing student populations. One of the key strengths of the Fujitsu M10 servers is their dynamic scaling capability. The servers’ Fujitsu SPARC64 X and X+ processors have 16 cores which can be activated two cores at a time. This means that organizations can buy only what they need now and pay as they grow—an on-demand approach that helps keep IT spending in line with actual needs.

“The Fujitsu M10 server allows us to easily increase the size of the system and its throughput capabilities for scalable growth,” says Catawba Valley’s McDaniel. “The Fujitsu M10 server also gave us the opportunity to add more local storage capacity, so we don’t have to rely so heavily on our SAN for data storage.”

The servers also help keep operating costs down. They are efficient to operate, and their compact size has cut space requirements by up to 75 percent. In addition, the new servers provide up to a 50 percent reduction in power consumption.

“The size of the Fujitsu M10-1 server is spectacular,” said Dustin Howell of Mitchell Community College. “The Fujitsu M10-1 is a thinner form factor, which is especially important, since rack space is like gold.”

Alphanumeric has helped several colleges set up a disaster recovery solution to ensure continuation of campus services in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. “Bob [Comire of Alphanumeric] knows Solaris through and through, and he wrote a script so that if our production server goes down, services can be flippped to the replicated server,” said Howell.

Looking ahead, additional community colleges in the system can take advantage of the Fujitsu M10-based solution delivered by Alphanumeric as they decide to replace aging systems. Indeed, Alphanumeric’s efforts have created a complete, easily replicated solution that can be quickly adopted by higher-education institutions as they pursue IT modernization and consolidation efforts. In doing so, they are likely to achieve similar benefits seen at the North Carolina Community College System. Simply put, says Alphanumeric’s Vanderberry, “The schools that have adopted the Fujitsu M10-1 or M10-4 servers have really experienced a huge performance boost at a very attractive price point.”

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The North Carolina Information Technology Services (ITS) chose Alphanumeric to host the 204C UNIX Workstations/Servers & Peripherals Term Contract. This contract allows the entire Community College System to easily procure equipment required to upgrade and modernize their campuses.

“Alphanumeric is one of two companies I really rely on, and knowing that they are there allows me to sleep at night,” said Ronnie L. Bryant, CIO of Brunswick Community College.

Bryan Reed

Bryan Reed is the marketing and communications director at Alphanumeric. You can reach him at breed@alphanumeric.com.