Northeast Utilities

Northeast Utilities (NU) operates New England's largest energy delivery system, serving millions of residential and business customers from Maine to Maryland. Headquartered in Berlin, Connecticut, NU employs approximately 6,500 people at 60 different sites in three states. Supporting the company's PC desktop systems falls to a group of two systems engineers and their manager, Gary Rubin. Rubin and his team recently put the NVIDIA® Unified Driver Architecture (UDA) to the test during an evaluation of a new HP desktop system, the HP d325 business PC, incorporating NVIDIA nForce™2 platform processors, which are optimized for the entire line of AMD Athlon™ XP+ processors.

Qualifying A New PC
Before any recently announced PC can be deployed on NU desktops, it must first pass the evaluation process carried out by Rubin's team. The list of evaluation criteria spans quality, performance, application compatibility, and supportability.

After inspecting a new system, a suite of benchmarks is executed to characterize the system's performance. Next, the team customizes, installs, and checks out software.

Rubin explains, "Performance benchmarks are typically run on the standard system image shipped with a system. For those PCs that meet our performance requirements, we go on to the next steps. First, we customize the system software-it can take up to ten hours to build an image for a new PC platform. Then we load the image and evaluate the compatibility of the system with our software and applications. This step can take up to a week. With a team of only two systems engineers, we are always looking for system platforms that simplify the development, deployment, and management of PC software."

Northeast Utilities quote

HP Compaq PCs and UDA: Shortened Start-Up Times
Last fall, NU evaluated and approved an HP desktop system-the Compaq D315 Business PC. The system included the first-generation NVIDIA nForce platform processors. "We've had a lot of experience with NVIDIA technology. Over the years, we've especially appreciated the NVIDIA unified driver architecture. UDA lets us swap out graphics cards without changing the driver. This configuration flexibility has been a big plus with our users-they can easily and quickly install the newest NVIDIA solution as soon as it's available," says Rubin. "With the D315, we learned that the nForce platform processors and UDA could extend this type of flexibility to the entire platform. HP advertised the D315 with nForce technology as enabling a 'universal' image. Supposedly, the follow-on HP d325 Business PC would not require a new image when it became available. One software image that could support an entire product line-that caught our attention!"

NU proceeded to purchase Compaq D315 Business PCs and was pleased with the results from the start. The system check-out was accomplished in record-breaking time-only three hours to build a custom software image with the NVIDIA nForce drivers. The team completed the process and the HP systems were deployed throughout the company. Rubin and his team were anxious to see if the follow-on HP d325 Business PC would live up to the claims for compatibility.

A Single Software Image
With the HP d325 PC now available, the NU team put it through the same testing procedure. The performance was excellent, with the NVIDIA nForce2 platform processors delivering almost double the 3D video performance compared to the previous platform. The NVIDIA nForce2's innovative DualDDR memory controller achieved a throughput level that was actually above standard DDR333 bandwidth, and the second-generation nForce I/O controller also resulted in substantial increases in hard disk performance.

Now they came to the moment of truth. Would their existing D315 software image run on the new system? To check it out, the team erased the standard Microsoft® Windows® XP image from the disk, and installed the NU Compaq D315 image. The team ended up with a single image that did in fact run on both the new system and the previous system. According to systems engineer Matt Boyajian, "Our image showed perfect stability--requiring no additional profiles. We could physically remove the hard disk drive from the HP d325 system, place it in a Compaq D315, and run it flawlessly. This is the first optimal multi-machine-capable image that we have ever seen. Whenever we have tried this with other vendors' equipment, the images have been riddled with useless drivers and performed unacceptably. The HP d325 with nForce2 was everything that was promised, and more."

The UDA Advantage
Like many other IT organizations, the NU team must support desktop platforms for up to four years. Rubin and his team re-evaluate all of the supported systems each quarter, to check out software and install required updates. The capability of supporting the Compaq platforms with a single image shortens this testing time throughout the life of the product line. "The NVIDIA nForce unified drivers have helped us cut costs in image development," says Rubin. John Ciullo, a systems engineer on Rubin's team, adds, "With the large number of desktops that we support, the simplified image development and testing procedures make a big difference. The entire Compaq product line has been a big win for us. We are also very happy with the NVIDIA driver support-drivers are updated religiously, with problems fixed before we discover them in many cases. This stability, combined with consistent hardware, makes our jobs much easier. NVIDIA never changes the chipsets on us-other vendors are changing functionality every few months, forcing us to modify desktops and keep up with complicated compatibility situations. This just doesn't happen with NVIDIA. The hardware is stable and advancements are implemented to be transparent to users and applications."

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