students sitting on campus stepsColleges across the country are happily migrating their SunGard Banner apps off proprietary RISC and UNIX platforms and onto Linux. If you’re wondering why this is happening and why otherwise sane CIOs would move their mission-critical apps off RISC systems and onto commodity Intel boxes from Dell and HP, it’s easy to explain. They’re saving a ton of money on new hardware, slashing support costs and reducing infrastructure complexity.

How can this be? For 11 years, I was technical architect with Sun Microsystems, designing, sizing, and architecting Banner environments for large state universities and smaller private colleges across the southeast. Over the past few years, my friends who run college data centers have been dealt a series of challenges, notably the economic meltdown which decimated budgets and rising support costs for maintaining proprietary Unix and RISC systems.

Ah, how the stars align. Fully supported enterprise-grade Linux distributions from Red Hat and high-performance commodity hardware from HP, Dell and other hardware vendors boast manageability and redundancies that rival larger, more expensive RISC platforms from Oracle, HP and IBM. Plus, with their thriving (and sophisticated) user communities and expanding support structures, enterprise Linux systems are truly ready for primetime. 

Now that I’ve got you thinking, let’s walk through the process of executing a migration at your school.

Step 1 - Sizing

When it comes to sizing your environment, don’t rely on anecdotal references.  A good sizing model will take into account all of your administrative users, from finance to student systems, etc.  It will also account for how many transactions these users perform.  Finally, it will consider the students, and how many will register at once.  Critically, you must size for the busy times.  BTW, virtual machines have introduced an interesting twist in sizing.  Technologies such as VMware will enable more flexible designs – resources dedicated to a server can be more easily changed as the need arises.  With the Intel sockets core-count-per socket on the rise, the cost of infrastructure on a per-student basis is rapidly declining.

Step 2 - Architecture

Developing an appropriate architecture for your OS and applications is critical for ensuring necessary levels of availability, fault-tolerance and redundancy. Ideally, you design your system so it will tolerate as many component outages as possible and still meet the service-level demands of your users. 

Beyond system performance, your architecture must address redundant paths for storage.  This should also include some type of failover software, which will ensure storage continues to flow should one HBA, switch port, or other component fail.  Many operating systems and storage vendors provide this functionality for little or no cost.  Similar attention should be paid to network redundancy.  Servers should be configured with redundancies built-in and contain as many hot-swappable components as possible.  These features should be considered during the vendor selection process.  Carry this same principle forward as you’re selecting a storage vendor.  You should select enterprise-grade storage, or as budget permits, select a storage vendor offering the most redundant features.

Step 3 – Project Planning

Now comes the most crucial part of the migration; developing a project plan, and executing the migration.  A good project plan will typically have a work breakdown schedule, risk contingencies, milestones, and a time-based schedule.  This is the point where solid project management skills come into play.  No matter how well the system is designed or how much homework you’ve done, a poorly executed plan will jeopardize your project.  Based on my experience, planning can easily occupy 50% of your upfront time…

So, what are you waiting for?

Disruptive change is a fact of life for IT professionals – heck, for everyone. And, sure, change is scary and not without risk, but today, the time is definitely right for migrating your Banner apps from proprietary RISC platforms to Linux. Systems Alliance has helped a number of schools complete successful migrations. We’re happy to share our experience with you. If you’re interested, go ahead and schedule a free white-board session with me or one of our other technical architects – click here to request your session today. Or, give us a call – 1-877-797-2554 to discuss your situation and learn more today.

Other resources

Check out our case study about the University of the Pacific migration project.