Brandeis Univ. touts Cisco ACE for load balancing, virtualization

It uses the Application Control Engine to help create online communities

In July, Brandeis University began using the Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE) to manage Moodle, an open-source program for building online learning sites.

The ACE module, installed in a Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Switch, helps consolidate and virtualize data center servers and switching, allowing Brandeis to better manage traffic across servers and separate production functions from test functions, said John Turner, director of network systems at Brandeis.

The Waltham, Mass.-based school has 5,000 students and handles about 300,000 database transactions a day. The use of ACE has enabled Brandeis to improve application availability, he said.

Moodle, which helps provide online collaboration tools such as virtual classes and student chat rooms, is only the first application envisioned for management with ACE. PeopleSoft applications are coming next, including administrative functions, financials and human resources. The university's Web server functions will probably follow, after Brandeis discovered server capacity problems while trying to provide a webcast of former President Jimmy Carter's controversial visit in January, he said.

"We need a lot more streaming resources," he said. "We are virtualizing our Layer 7 applications into the network itself and might use ACE to load balance e-mail or even potentially storage," he said. "How far we go, who knows? We have to find out."

While the ACE module cost Brandeis "tens of thousands of dollars," Turner said, it meant the school did not need to add four smaller switches, and it proved to be a better, more flexible product than other systems tested. Those other systems included clustering software from Microsoft Corp. and load balancing from F5 Networks Inc., as well as open-source products.

"I don't want to sound like a broken record, but with Cisco, there's been no muss, no fuss," he said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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