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General | Why | Move

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The Student Activity Server has been renamed to the Penn State Student Organizations Web Service and is under new management. These Web pages are out of date and will be removed in the near future. Please read http://www.clubs.psu.edu/info/ for information about the new service.

Discussion Why We Want to Move

Obviously we want to move for the stability problems, but we also gain more services with this move.

  1. The virtual host will receive 24/7 technical support. The previous server could only be access during business hours.
  2. Hardware, operating system, web server process and configuration support will be provided under contract by CAC/AIT, lessening the burden of Student Affairs and the Student Activty Server Committee.
  3. The new server will be located on a better network, closer to the DCE/DFS servers, and with a faster link to the PSU backbone and outside Internet.
  4. Environmental factors such as air conditioning, and power backup are more favorable with the new server.
  5. Further upgrades can occur in a more timely matter.
  6. The AIX operating system is tightly integrated with DCE technology, making it easier to develop applications for DCE and DFS.
  7. Other web services have proven this is a stable platform for DCE/DFS.
  8. The Apache web server provides features that are are customizable by the web designers without needing help from the server administrators. These are accessed by .htaccess files, and include password protection and custom 404 error pages.

What went wrong with our old server?

The decision between NT and Unix itself has been plagued with heated debate for years in many computing groups. Even Interface, the Student Computer Club had it's share of unpleasant evenings. The original vision of the club when they errected the server in CAC's network was to keep a simple server that was easy for students to run. NT/IIS fit their plan.

As we now service in excess of 570 organizations, and 1,500 users, the current team realizes we need to plan more for the needs of the student organizations, and their respective web designers. As the system grows, and our plans for integration in the University blossom, we need more support from bodies such as Student Affairs and the CAC. While NT and the Internet Information Server have served us faithfully over the years, the time has come to expand to new level, on par with other major web services in the University. The Apache web server, AIX Unix operating system, and DCE/DFS service fit our current need.

On a technical standpoint, it was not clear what preceisely was causing the persistent failures with our NT DFS client. The same software program has served many departments well in similar contexts. For instance, it is used in the CAC public lab in 64 Willard Building (University Park) without major problems. However, we are the largest server in PSU that uses the NT DFS client for file access. Additionally, we only bosted a meager 128 MB of RAM, which may have contributed to the problem (further testing revealed additional RAM had no desired effect and was under utilized). The NT server itself was fine with the load of two domains, generating about a dozen megabytes of web logs daily. It also had no problem with the use of two dozen organizations in DFS space. It was only with the full weight of 500+ organizations in DFS that the client seemed to fail.

The DFS client "failure" was a state when any access to the W: and Y: drives that are mapped from DFS space would seem to hang indefinitely. This would cause the web server to also time out, and stop service for all domains (greeks too). IBM's documentation agreed with our experience, that the only cure for such a hang was a reboot of the operating system. This, however, did not prevent future failures.

What baffled us was that our trouble seemed to be unique to us. No other department or group seemed to have this trouble. Configurations that worked in other places did not seem to help here. We seemed to have stumped CAC and are waiting to see if IBM can offer any insight. We will continue to investigate our situation for the good of the DCE/DFS user community after we have completed our migration to the new server.

Interested parties may download the DCE/DFS client for Windows NT at www.work.psu.edu/access/dce/. (Requires valid Access Account)

Last modified Thursday, 27-Mar-2003 12:47:53 EST. Student Activity Server Committee