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Northwestern University

Saying Good-Bye to the 2000's and Retiring our Physical Servers

The 2000s –the decade that brought us myspace, the Rickroll, Pluto's designation as a minor planet and new server equipment for the College. Matthew Carroll was part of the 2000's Weinberg College IT team that built the server room in the basement of the Dean’s office at 1922 Sheridan Road. In April 2019, Matthew, having been part of the IT team at the Graduate School and very recently returned to the Weinberg College, found himself helping to take apart the equipment he had once put together. Reflecting on the occasion, Matthew said, “It is an interesting experience to return and dismantle something that you helped create years ago.”

For over a decade, the equipment in this basement allowed the College to provide email and web servers, file servers, College wide application servers and a desktop cluster for social science research software. Called the Sheridan Cluster, this desktop cluster allowed social scientists to run specialized research software from anywhere in the world. These servers also hosted the College file share service that provided network file storage to all Weinberg departments, faculty and staff. There have been many technological transformations since the 2000s, including the growth of cloud server infrastructure. Matthew continued, “In order to move forward and grow we have to rethink our approach to providing services to the College.”  While our servers provided many years of service, we’re moving away from local physical presence and into the cloud.

Moving to Cloud Infrastructure

In 2016 we began the process of moving services and shutting down the 1922 Sheridan server equipment. We moved file storage into services like Box and transferred other functions to Northwestern IT’s NUCloud virtual hosting environment and Amazon Web Services. By using cloud infrastructure, we can instantly gain access to resources we need and ramp down when we don’t. Previously, we had to purchase server equipment, set it up, and had a static capacity in those servers. Additionally, we had to budget for periodic, large upfront costs of new equipment. With the change to cloud, we only pay for what we use and can quickly scale up or down based on our needs.

There have been many technological changes since the 2000s. We are continually evaluating, improving and adjusting the infrastructure upon which we run vital College services and applications. For Matthew and the systems team, that has meant dismantling the once industry standard servers they once built and looking forward to a new future in the cloud.



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