The Enterprise Quilt
- By Annie Stunden
The enterprise computing environment on
a complex fabric of diverse elements, stitched in layers.
When we think about enterprise computing, we tend to think only about replacements
for legacy administrative systems. But the enterprise is much more than that;
it is all of the computing resources together that we put in place to support
On our campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we talk about layers
of computing and networking technology as underwear, middleware, and outerwear
(the UMO model). The UMO is a simple model. It d'es not begin to account for
the multiple sublayers that make up this one layer or the components of those
For example, when we start to parse our network—as we have recently done
at Madison—we find ourselves soon facing streets and conduits and fibre
(multi-mode or single-mode), buildings with cable (or maybe more fibre) between
the floors and in the walls, telecommunications closets requiring specific electrical
and HVAC capacity, access control for those closets, and equipment racks in
those closets. Then there are the switches and routers in the closets connected
by cable or fibre to wall jacks and then to desktop computers that require the
correct network capability. And that's a simple picture.
We have networks in our computer rooms that are even more complex, where we
worry about different layers in the network protocol. As we were building our
new network I found myself remembering that TCP/IP is, in itself, a seven-layer
protocol—I remembered this because we were struggling with a Layer 4 switch.
And that’s just the network.
The other large pieces of underwear are the central and distributed computers.
Others are the servers and the operating systems that reside on them, a layer
that has become very involved. There was a time when we had a mainframe that
ran most of our legacy applications and another mainframe or maybe a VAX cluster
that ran our academic applications. On mid-sized and large campuses these often
resided in two separate computing centers—the administrative computing
center and the academic computing center—and never the twain shall meet.
But meet they have. Now if there is a mainframe, it is one of many servers
sitting in the computing center supporting an expanded portfolio of applications.
At Madison we currently have over 400 centrally supported servers and many different
operating systems. While not all of these 400 are technically “enterprise
servers”—some of them provide more limited departmental support—all
of them support either the entire enterprise or essential components of it.
The enterprise computing environment is an extraordinarily detailed and diverse
fabric—an enterprise quilt. As we develop more applications in the outer
layers, we ask more from the underlying layers and more from our staffs that
are keeping this environment running 24x7.
I favor the principle of keeping things short and simple (KISS), as we work
on providing applications and services to support our university enterprise.
Regardless, the technology environment continues to evolve and expand.
We face a very real challenge in managing this environment and in having our
colleagues in the academe understand both how complex and how fragile the enterprise
technology environment is.