Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Serving servers: a technical infrastructure plan


As we aim to provide a fast, efficient and robust technical architecture for the Wellcome Digital Library, the Wellcome Trust IT department has been working closely with our software suppliers to specify a suitable server architecture. This work is still in progress, but we now have the skeleton idea of how many servers we are likely to need and for what purposes. The scale of the architecture requirements shows that setting up and delivering digital content is a significant undertaking.

In order to serve up millions of images, plus thousands of A/V files, born digital content and the web applications that make them accessible, we believe we’ll need around 17 (virtual) servers for the production environment (the “live” services), and a further 10 servers for our staging and development environments. In the production environment, nearly every server is duplicated to ensure redundancy and a smooth delivery service, which is why the numbers are so high. The content management system coupled with its SQL database requires four servers, for example. The image delivery environment needs six servers for data delivery, on-the-fly image conversion and tile creation, and media proxy servers creating digital content URLs that divorce the user-request mechanism from the actual content held on our servers for security reasons.

Most of the servers run on Windows 2008, although our image server (IIPImage) will run on Linux Ubuntu. The virtual servers share CPUs, but the number of CPUs available mean that each server gets the equivalent of either 2 or 4 CPUs, leading to a total 48 CPU requirement (288 cores as each CPU has 6 cores) . RAM varies from 2GB to 8Gb depending on the anticipated usage of a particular application on that server. The total RAM requirement for the production architecture is estimated at 124Gb. These specifications are currently our best guess, and will be tested in the weeks to come as we start to deploy the hardware.

The staging environment allows system upgrades, patches or new development work to be applied and tested  separately from the live production environment. This means that any changes can be tested thoroughly before changes are made publicly visible and/or usable. Actual development work is carried out in the development environment, before deployment for final testing on the staging servers. This means that applications such as the web content management system and the delivery system applications must be replicated in these two additional environments, along with their server requirements.

With thanks to David Martin, IT Project Manager, as the source of my information.

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