As we have been thinking about the possibilities of leveraging AWS, I have been reflecting on my experience bringing up the IT infrastructure for a new college of engineering in Qatar (2003 – 2007). Today, the IT infrastructure in place at the Texas A&M University branch campus there mirrors what you might find at any university. There is a data center, many racks of servers, a SAN for storage and backup needs, and a large high performance computing center to support faculty research. Had cloud-based services like AWS been viable in 2003, how might things have been done differently?
- Our network design and implementation plan would remain unchanged. Getting the Qatar Foundation and Qtel to give us two OC3 equivalents to the United States, connecting to Internet2, was a brilliant move by Pierce Cantrell and one that continues to pay dividends.
- For authentication and identity services, we would have extended current LDAP/Kerberos/Active Directory services from the main campus into an AWS EC2 instance and then down to a local physical server in Qatar (as opposed to bringing up our own AD forest). This would allow employees to authenticate with the credentials they already know and would have allowed us to get better economies of scale around identity management.
- For employee email, we would have adopted Live@edu because it works better with Microsoft Outlook calendaring. For students, we would have put them into the student email system from the main campus (instead of bringing up a separate physical Microsoft Exchange instance supporting everyone).
- No way to get around the need for a local file server (because of network dependency and latency issues), but one physical server acting as an AWS S3 Storage Gateway would make sure that all files are automatically backed up to the U.S. For PCs and servers (virtual and physical) an AWS based solution like JungleDisk would also ensure that backups automatically reside in the U.S (as opposed to a tape backup system in Qatar).
- All application servers, database services, Web servers, and the like would be delivered through AWS EC2 and RDS instances (as opposed to bringing up dozens of physical servers). In regards to PCs, the traditional desktop model would reign – network dependency and latency issues would make virtual desktop computing too risky.
- In regards to high performance computing, faculty researchers with the need for parallel processing capabilities would have been handed credits for AWS EC2 instances and S3 storage (as opposed to building large computing clusters physically). For faculty whose research required large shared-memory computing, such as that for visualization, a large shared memory machine physically on the ground would be required (as was implemented in Qatar).