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.

IT FundingEVERY 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.

Think Strategically

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 strategy.

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 deployment.

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 investments. Northwestern 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.

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