Bankrolling IT Infrastructure
Spending more on technology deployment than on ongoing maintenance
and upgrades? Time to even the score and save hard-won dollars overall.
EVERY INVESTMENT in IT infrastructure presents
a classic double whammy: An organization
has to budget for the initial deployment and maintain
funding to keep the technology working.
Neither task is easy for university administrators,
given funding constraints and plenty of
competition for the available dollars. But schools
hoping to stretch their budgets as far as possible
have some techniques at their disposal. Try
these tactics for making every dollar count in
such infrastructure areas as storage, wireless,
and network servers.
Looking at the big picture can yield benefits
when it comes to IT infrastructure investment.
That’s particularly the case with storage, frequently
overlooked as an expenditure that should
be carefully managed. Organizations often tack
on storage as a matter of course whenever they
purchase servers. As a result, the storage outlay
flies under the investment-management radar.
The University of New Hampshire, however,
has devised a storage strategy that involves
consolidating storage into a centralized service.
Tom Franke, assistant VP and CIO at the school, says the
approach “will let us look more comprehensively at our
storage needs,” which in turn will help UNH get more out
of its infrastructure investment.
Server-attached storage, the university’s previous
approach, typically limits the full utilization of storage
resources. That’s because storage bound to one server
can’t be used by other servers. A centralized, sharedstorage
service, however, unlocks storage from individual
servers and promotes improved utilization. Indeed, Franke
cites higher utilization as one of the goals of UNH’s storage
Due to its distributed nature, server-attached storage
also tends to drive up support costs. UNH commissioned
GlassHouse Technologies, a storage
consultant, to study its storage environment, and discovered
that the school’s support costs per unit of storage
were “on the expensive side,” says Franke. He hopes
that the centralization strategy will help make UNH’s storage
infrastructure more efficient, though he notes that the
university’s IT group was a fairly lean shop to begin with.
How much money UNH will save has yet to be determined;
Franke says it will take about a year for the
school’s storage vision to be fully realized.
Consider Ease of Deployment
In some cases, the technology itself
may free up dollars to invest in its
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
(NY) sought to establish a wireless
infrastructure for student and faculty
internet and e-mail access. Mike
Ruiz, network and systems engineer at
HWS, found that many wireless solutions
required considerable preparation:
site surveys, capacity planning,
and user-density forecasting. “There’s a
huge up-front time investment,” he says.
Then HWS tested wireless gear from
Meru Networks. The technology coordinates
across a wireless installation’s access
points, thus eliminating the task of making
sure access points and channels
don’t overlap. By choosing a technology
that helped streamline the process,
HWS completed the first phase of its
wireless rollout in less than half the time
originally slotted for it. And, says Ruiz,
“we discovered that by not having to
do multi-day surveys, we reduced the
cost.” As a consequence, he says, the
school had more money than anticipated
to roll out new locations.
Find a New Business Model
Once a piece of infrastructure is in
place, the investment focus shifts to
the technology refreshment cycle. And
those upgrades can be problematic—
they may well bust the annual budget!
A $30 per month per user ‘head tax’ provides a sustainable model for upgrading Northwestern’s network and server infrastructure on a 3-year cycle.
Yet savvy institutions have devised
ways of dealing with periodic maintenance
University (IL), for example, has developed
a “sustainable model” for upgrading
the school’s network and server
infrastructure, according to Patricia
Todus, the school’s associate VP and
deputy CIO. When Northwestern’s
servers need to be upgraded, the dollars
come from the appropriated server
budget and the IT department’s rate
base—its recharge model for faculty
and staff. In previous years, schools
and departments of the university were
charged separately for telephone, data
connection, and other resources. Last
year, that model was retooled; IT has
converged the various services into a
single rate. The fee is about $30 per
month per user: a head tax, in effect.
This sustainable model allows the university
to upgrade servers on a threeyear
cycle, says Todus. The service
bundling also makes it easier for
departments to order services.
Jeri Semer, executive director of the
Association for Communications Technology
Professionals in Higher Education, says that such
fee-for-service models allow institutions
to provide for the maintenance of
existing infrastructure and services.
She adds that schools in past years
tapped into revenue from long distance
telephone service as a good source of
infrastructure funding. “However, since
long distance revenue has steadily
declined, and other revenue sources
such as governmental funding have
also decreased, alternative funding
models must be found,” she explains.
The examples above illustrate that
investment management is more than
pinching pennies: Organizations need
to maintain a wide-angle perspective
and think creatively as well.