Last year, when students at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) registered for courses, acute system performance problems became one of their biggest stumbling blocks. Registration typically peaks on the first day of each quarter, when hundreds of students log onto the system. This time, it overloaded the system, and the IS department spent six hours on the phone with tech support.
"We had to cancel registration that day and eventually had to reset the machine so everything was ready for the next day," said Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, CIO of FIDM. "Needless to say, the students were far from happy."
FIDM is a private college in California with 5,000 full-time students and campuses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Orange County. FDIM offers a wide range of courses, but its focus, as its name implies, is on fashion, graphics, interior design, and entertainment.
A big lesson learned from the project was, if at all possible, you should do a side-by-side implementation," said Reynolds-Lair. "It is much easier and much less stressful.
With such a geographically dispersed area to take care of, about 60 staff members are required to run FIDM's IT environment. Previously, the core systems ran on an IBM eServer iSeries 840. This 12-way box had to handle the student database, financials, intranet, and Lotus Notes e-mail, as well as an increasingly heavy load of Web sites and Web applications. As a result, the institute had added several commodity Intel boxes running Linux to ease the burden incurred by the steadily rising tide of Web traffic.
And then came that fateful day when the 840 crumbled under the demand. Fortunately, that incident coincided with the end of the lease period for the aging machine.
"The 840 was showing signs of difficulty, and it was time to make a move," said Reynolds-Lair. "As well as our registration problems, we were also suffering from numerous performance issues, such as slows with our e-mail application."
FIDM took out a new lease on a 9-way iSeries 570 i5 and further shored up its IT infrastructure with an IBM 3590 tape drive and an IBM 2108 SAN fabric switch. The 570 i5 features both 35 GB and 70 GB drives, POWER5 64-bit processors, and IBM's brand new Virtualization Engine. This virtualization technology makes it possible to split processors into multiple partitions, even running multiple operating systems side by side on the same box.
"The Virtualization Engine gives us more flexibility," said Reynolds-Lair. "We can power off one partition without affecting the others, as every partition is completely isolated."
The Fashion Institute system has a total of seven partitions. It has allocated them for:
- Lotus Domino
- WebSphere Application Server
- Financials (live)
- Financials (testing)
- An IBM xSeries server, currently not in production
- Linux-based Web applications
Previously, when patching was necessary, FIDM had to power down the whole system and shut off all applications. Now, the IS department can take down, for example, the financial partition or the Domino partition, and leave the Web portal up. This gives students the 24/7 access they expect.
This capability proved useful up during the test phase when the 570 had to cope with the added traffic on the first day of the quarter.
"We found we could easily deal with several hundred users at the same time, vs. a maximum of 30 before," said Reynolds-Lair.