Hosting options for servers – and the data on them

If you’ve been keeping a server under your desk for your department, laboratory, or center (DLC), it’s time to rethink your hosting options.


If you’ve been keeping a server under your desk for your department, laboratory, or center (DLC), it’s time to rethink your hosting options. Garry Zacheiss, Server and System Administration manager within Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), notes two reasons why you shouldn’t house a server in your office:

1. Buildings at MIT with office space generally don’t have the redundant power or the highly available network found in a dedicated data center.

If power to a building drops and you’re providing services out of a server in that building, the outage can have a broad impact.

Let’s say, for example, that your department runs its website on an in-house server. A localized power or network outage over the weekend — when the expectation of off-hours support is reduced — may mean that the website will be unavailable for many hours or even a couple of days.

2. Those who maintain servers in their office space may not have server or system administration as their primary function.

Graduate students, research scientists, and administrative assistants are sometimes asked to maintain in-house servers or databases. These employees usually have other responsibilities with a higher priority; in addition, they may not have the systems expertise or security awareness that IT professionals can provide.

To organize your data, IS&T offers two fee-based options for managing and housing servers: Managed Servers and Server Co-location. Here’s a quick look at each.

Managed Servers

This service provides access to the same IT staff and environmentally secure infrastructure that supports some of MIT’s largest enterprise systems — SAP, the Data Warehouse, MITSIS, Stellar, Exchange email, and the main MIT campus website. While most of the customers of this service are DLC administrators, the service is available to all members of the community.

Zacheiss offers this example of a good fit for the Managed Servers service: a server with a FileMaker database that contains compensation amounts for faculty and administrative staff, or amounts of stipends or awards to  graduate students. The bottom line: Sensitive data should be stored securely.

IS&T’s main production data center is located off campus at One Summer Street in downtown Boston. MIT has assigned this location the building number OC11 and has entered into a long-term lease for approximately 7,000 square feet of space.  

Servers are provided with rack space, power, cooling, and network connectivity. There are appropriate controls around the network and the operating system, which is professionally managed and patched on a regular basis. IS&T monitors the systems and has staff on call.

IS&T has a secondary data center in the basement of Building E40, which serves as the test development site for its managed services. If your DLC has a system that’s not in production or wants a disaster recovery replica of a managed server, it would be placed in E40.

Everything that is part of the managed service is backed up via TSM, with the data always sent to a second location. In the event that OC11 is hit by a building-wide disaster, IS&T will be able recover all of the data.

Server Co-location

IS&T’s server co-location service is targeted at research computing, including the hosting of high-performance computing clusters owned and operated by MIT faculty as part of their research.

IS&T offers two main sites for co-location: Building W91 and the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computer Center (MGHPCC).

For co-location clients who need direct access to their equipment in W91 on a regular basis, IS&T has staffed hours Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. If clients need emergency access outside of those hours, IS&T offers an on-call number. IS&T can also provide after-hours access for non-emergency maintenance, usually with a week’s notice. 

The MGHPCC supports the needs of five research-intensive universities in Massachusetts, including MIT. This facility is IS&T’s newest data center; the initial process of moving research clusters from campus to the MGHPCC is being coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

For now, hosting servers in the MGHPCC is free. The downside is that the facility is not physically nearby, so it’s best for relatively mature computing clusters that don’t require a lot of day-to-day physical maintenance.

There is no backup service built into the physical co-location model. Many clients opt to use TSM and IS&T encourages this, but in the end it’s a customer decision.

No-Cost Consultations

If you’re looking for advice about hosting servers (and other related services), start by browsing IS&T’s Website and Server Hosting page. Community members can also contact IS&T for a free consultation by sending email to ops-sla@mit.edu. Says Zacheiss, “Asking questions about our services is highly encouraged.”


Topics: Campus services, Information Systems and Technology

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