Atlantic schools ‘blown away’ by server donations

Telecom provider Aliant has donated more half a million dollars worth of its surplus Sun Microsystems server equipment to educational institutions in the Atlantic region for academic work

in a variety of fields including humanities, health sciences and computer science.

The donation of more 65 Sparc-based servers follows a server upgrade and consolidation project at Aliant that began over a year ago and recently wrapped up. Rather than ship the gear back to Sun, the two companies decided to upgrade the equipment and donate it to local universities and colleges. Both firms have a history of investing in Atlantic Canada, including the education and academia sector.

“They can never have enough computing technology,” said Shirley Horvat, director of marketing at Sun Microsystems of Canada. “Feeding this type of technology within these computing environments promises returns for everyone, academic and economic, involved.”

Aliant, which is based in Atlantic Canada, has several programs, including Computers for Schools and the Aliant Wireless Innovation Fund, that focus on children and youth, so this move was a natural extension of its previous work with the community.

“The equipment was refurbished or upgraded and rather than selling it to somebody else, the corporate decision was made to donate it to universities and colleges,” said Aliant spokesperson, Peter Murchland.

Starting last summer, Aliant telephoned numerous post-secondary institutions and asked them if they had a need for the servers.

Kerri Brewster, director of computing services at Wolfville, N.S.-based Acadia University was on the receiving end of one of those calls.

“This blew me away,” said Brewster. “It was a real coup. They could resell it and get very good money for it.”

Likewise, Mohammad Iqbal, chair of applied research at St. John’s Nfld.-based College of the North Atlantic (CNA) said the servers are a welcome addition to its research facilities. The systems are being used in conjunction with an existing mainframe computer at its Geospatial Research project at its Corner Brook campus.

“They are dealing with an enormous amount of data which is beyond the normal capacity of small computers,” said Iqbal. “They certainly need more computers with more memory capacity and data handling capabilities.

“These servers will be helpful and go a long way in supporting their project.”

Meanwhile, Acadia is using three out of the four computers it received last fall for testing and development of software applications with the additional machine being used for parts.

“The reason we chose not to use them in production was since they are an older model it would have cost us too much money to have a maintenance contract on them,” said Brewster. “It’s saved us a lot of money because we haven’t had to go out and buy new servers for testing and development purposes.”

Acadia, for example, recently switched from Oracle 9i to 10g, which it uses to integrate its administration systems like student records, admissions and online student registration, using the donated Sun servers to test the new version before it went live with it.

“We can install new versions of that environment on a test server before we go wild with it in real life,” said Brewster.

In addition to this recent example of Sun’s work with the education sector, Sun also has several Centres of Excellence around the country at certain universities including University of New Brunswick, Seneca College in Toronto and University of Calgary.

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