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Argonne National Laboratory, in Argonne, Ill., is operated by the University of Chicago and is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest research centers and one of the world’s most comprehensive scientific institutes. Recognized for excellence in connecting basic research to innovative technology, Argonne brings together many areas of science, engineering, and technology. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies, as well as other organizations. Its more than 200 research projects annually range from studies of the atomic nucleus to research on global climate change.
Argonne relies on computing power to run its high-profile research projects as well as its core business systems that keep the laboratory moving forward. Like most private and public research facilities, Argonne must maintain a wide range of business applications for users working locally and remotely. With its wealth of scientific expertise, Argonne must also support a variety of internal and external Web portals that deliver back-office, administrative, and communications services to Argonne’s subject-matter experts. Despite enabling its research staff to quickly develop and customize myriad specialized applications, decentralization had limited the ability of Argonne’s IT management to exercise control over the complexity — and cost — of its core infrastructure. To make matters even more challenging, an assortment of server platforms and operating systems required specialists for each technology. This meant that Argonne’s central IT division had to be versed in a broad spectrum of computer hardware, software, operating systems, and applications to support business system users.
With the drive to maximize taxpayer investment in research, Argonne’s management needed to find a more cost-effective and efficient way to deliver IT services. After careful consideration, Argonne standardized its core business systems infrastructure with the help of Oracle’s Sun servers and Oracle Solaris 10.
It also relies on Oracle Database as the foundation for core business systems and upgraded from Oracle’s MySQL Database to MySQL Enterprise Database and used components of Oracle’s Sun Java Enterprise System suite to deploy a centralized, single sign-on Web portal for access to critical business communications and back-office applications.
Increase Efficiency and Performance in Datacenter
To conduct its 200-plus research projects, Argonne National Laboratory employs multiple data centers, many of which rely on Argonne’s core IT infrastructure for critical business applications. Over the past several years,
Argonne’s IT division for Computing and Information Systems has pushed to standardize the core infrastructure to increase overall efficiencies of its business systems.
“We were spending a lot of time dealing with disparate hardware and seemingly random operating system choices. We wanted to standardize as much as possible to focus on what scientists need and the business applications that need to be supported,” said David Salbego, department head, infrastructure and operations, Argonne National Laboratory.
To support its larger, critical business applications, Argonne upgraded to Oracle’s Sun SPARC Enterprise M4000 Server, a powerful midrange server that is optimized for 24/7 mission-critical computing and large shared-memory applications.
“We’ve been impressed by SPARC technology for a long time. It’s amazingly engineered to be very powerful, but also very compact and energy efficient,” Salbego said.
Argonneruns Oracle Database on its three Sun SPARC Enterprise M4000 servers, an environment that supports all of its critical enterprise resource planning applications, such as human resources, legal, procurement, and financial applications.
“We run the heart and soul of our business applications on Sun SPARC Enterprise M4000 servers with Oracle Solaris 10, so we need a system that we can count on day-after-day and year-afteryear. We have not had a single operating system or hardware failure since we installed the M4000s in 2007,” Salbego said.
Minimize Infrastructure Footprint and Power Use
For smaller to midsize applications, Argonne upgraded to Oracle’s Sun Fire X4200 and X4600 M2 servers.
“These servers are well engineered, well built, and provide high levels of performance and reliability,” Salbego said. “We use them on a variety of applications — from Web infrastructure to database systems.”
Equally important is the smaller footprint of the new infrastructure.
“We have limited space and limited power. Oracle’s Sun, energyefficient hardware works well for what we’re doing,” Salbego said.
Argonnealso opted to standardize on Oracle Solaris 10 operating system and Ubuntu Linux for its primary operating systems.
“Oracle Solaris 10 is reliable and predictable — and has what we need in an operating system,” Salbego said.
With the Oracle Solaris Containers virtualization feature in Oracle Solaris 10, Argonne can consolidate multiple applications onto a single system, which makes it an ideal solution for standardization. Virtualization ensures high availability, which is critical to Argonne’s environment.
Argonnehas continued to expand its virtualized environment, purchasing Oracle’s Sun Storage 7410 as the storage foundation for its virtualized environment. Argonne deployed two Sun 7410 clusters with 80 terabytes of storage between them.
“It performs really well at a low cost,” Salbego said. “In a virtualized environment, you need network-based shared storage that is expandable
and reliable. Storage and performance are key, and we get both and more out-of-the-box with Sun Storage 7410, including a fantastic user interface and sophisticated performance enhancement tools.
As important, the system is compact but hugely expandable, and we can easily manage it with out-of-the box metrics that let us know early when we need to expand.”
Simplify system maintenance and development
The IT team also upgraded to Oracle’s MySQL Enterprise. “We had been using the MySQL Community Server for a long time and supporting it ourselves. When Sun — now Oracle — offered the enterprise version, providing a standardized release structure, we decided to take advantage of it. It’s a reliable, stable version of the software,” Salbego said.
“A lot of information technology is overhead — work every datacenter needs to accomplish,” Salbego continued. “Our job is to choose products and services to minimize those costs and efforts, enabling us to focus on the technologies that are most interesting to Argonne and its research activities.”
Argonne’s central IT division also wanted to address the parallel requirement of a best-practices solution for its software infrastructure.
Over the years, Argonne project managers and team leaders had been using an array of development tools when necessary to build home-grown applications. Each of these tools required a range of technical expertise and experience that taxed the capacity of the Argonne IT team. Adding further to support headaches and user complexity was the burgeoning population of individual and group Web portals that had to be accessed individually.
The vision for the Argonne Web portal was a unified development and deployment framework that would enable users to securely access key applications and information, as well as business-critical processes, for improved collaboration and decisionmaking.
“Our old system was really a hodgepodge architecture,” said Ross Pallan, Argonne’s portal project manager. “So many applications with separate user IDs and passwords also made it difficult and expensive for our help desk personnel to support our users. Our big goal was to consolidate our applications under one umbrella, with single sign-on (SSO) capability.”
“One of our key challenges was to provide more consistent support to our developers,” Pallan added. “We determined that it would be far more efficient if users only had to learn one language rather than bounce back and forth between several. And there were just too many disparate Web portals for us to adequately support each one. We integrated Argonne’s key backoffice and communications Web portals into a unified SSO intranet.”
To create this centralized authentication capability for Argonne’s roster of internal and external users, the IT team deployed a software infrastructure stack comprising the Oracle’s Sun Java System Application Server, Oracle OpenSSO Enterprise, and Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition. Because Argonne uses open-source tools to support many of its tasks, the IT team wanted to also ensure that its software was upto- date and consistent across the datacenters. To this end, Argonne upgraded to the Oracle GlassFish Server 8.1, available as an open-source software stack.
The upgrade enabled Argonne to take advantage of 64-bit Java for greater performance and flexibility. With Oracle GlassFish Server, Argonne has gained valuable session persistence and failover. Today, the laboratory is running a number of proprietary applications on Oracle GlassFish, including its performance appraisal system and a visitor gate pass application.
“We’re a big Java development environment, so we run Sun’s application server, now known as the Oracle GlassFish Server,” Salbego said. “We’ve consolidated on the Sun Web server for the most part. Oracle Directory Server and Oracle OpenSSO form the backbone of a lot of our authentication and authorization solutions. And we’ve enabled single sign-on using this whole stack, a straightforward task with our many home-grown applications. Suddenly it looks like it’s an integrated stack of applications. I love it.”
Standardize and Virtualize for Improved Performance
Although a small portion of the central IT division remains to be standardized on Sun technology, Argonne is already realizing significant benefits in many areas. Oracle Solaris 10 virtualization features provide the assurance of high availability and high hardware utilization for the business applications it supports.
“There are a lot of different reasons why your environment should be virtualized,” Salbego said. “For us, it’s the mobility of applications. We can’t have things going down.”
Argonnehas also been taking advantage of the Oracle Solaris’ ZFS advanced file system to help ensure data integrity on its Oracle Databases. ZFS seamlessly integrates solid state drives (SSDs) to improve application performance and operating efficiency.
With a standardized infrastructure largely built on Oracle technology, the Argonne IT team is confident that it can continue to deliver an open, standards-based, scalable, integrated IT capability to its high-tech users.
As to the future, Salbego said, “Our two primary development languages are Java and Ruby. Our Java developers use Java Application Server 8.1 as our application server of choice. We’ve been experimenting a bit with Oracle GlassFish open-source application server and are in the process of building out a new infrastructure based on it. This environment is also load-balanced for high availability and redundancy.”
Oracle GlassFish incorporates the technology of the Sun Java Platform Enterprise Edition 5 Application Server and its commercial counterpart, the Oracle GlassFish Server. It provides a foundation based on open-standards Java technology that can be provisioned using open-source products.
“We love the strategy of being part of a community that drives the creation of standards-based technology and offers it up as open source on the market,” Salbego said. “Argonne takes a very hands-on approach to our infrastructure and development. We rely on our own people to solve our problems, and take pride in that. The manner in which Oracle delivers, supports, and opens its products enables us to use that strategy with great success.”
By implementing components of the Sun Java Enterprise System suite, Argonne was able to provide a scalable and reliable solution for its integrated Web portal, enabling Argonne to synchronize its IT investment with its business priorities and user requirements.
Salbego said, “The feedback we have gotten from our user community indicates that the SSO Web portal is a big success. Late in 2009, we implemented OpenSSO Express 8, which will allow us to bring our Apache-based applications, such as Wiki and many other home-grown applications, into the SSO fold in the future.”
The Web portal has helped Argonne consolidate its Java support contracts, which now provides predictable licensing fees.
Pallan pointed out another important outcome for Argonne, “The subscription model for deploying Sun Java Enterprise System software was much more economical than purchasing components separately, as offered by other vendors. As a result, we estimate a cost savings of more than US$50,000 per year in licensing and support.”
Argonnealso expects to achieve a 100% return on investment in 18 months.
Additionally, Salbego said, “We implemented Oracle’s Sun MySQL Monitor with great success, and the wealth of information provided by this tool is enormous. We also implemented MySQL replication using Oracle’s Sun MySQL Enterprise to improve our disaster recovery posture. The fact that we have Oracle MySQL Enterprise support available if needed helps greatly.”
Salbego concluded, “If you add up all the benefits, our decision to standardize using Sun products was a wise one.”
To begin its standardization efforts, Argonne received bids from Sun (now Oracle), HP, Dell, and other vendors for hardware. It ultimately chose Oracle’s Sun technology because Sun had been helping Argonne fulfill its mission with innovative software, hardware, and support services for more than 20 years. According to Salbego, it made good business sense to stay with proven technology in standardizing the hardware environment.
“We wanted something that was reliable and competitively priced, and we knew we would get that with Oracle and its Sun technology,” Salbego said.ShareThis
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