IT Trends

U Kentucky Research Group Controls Costs with Centralized IT Management Software

The University of Kentucky's Research Information Services group, which serves a 300-plus staff of research administrators facilitating $300 million in university grants, has realized dramatic savings by consolidating from five network support software tools to a single system. Administrative tasks handled by the new software suite include inventory management, software updates and patches, and new application deployments--tasks that can take weeks to complete when a technician must be on site to manually perform the maintenance.

Instead, the U Kentucky group has been using automation software from Kaseya for a year and a half to provide a single integrated view of the research group's networked PCs and peripherals from a centralized, Web-based management console. Along with Kaseya's core IT Department Edition, which enables tasks like remote management and repair, in the last six months the group has added additional modules for user state management and for backup and disaster recovery. Savings have been significant, according to the university, with the number of help tickets dropping, resolution times speeding dramatically, and the yearly IS inventory completed weeks earlier.

The group also used Kaseya's professional services during installation, which ended up being a significant cost saver as well, according to Greg Franseth, director of Research Information Services.

The basic Kaseya software package is used for a variety of tasks, including help desk support, auditing and monitoring systems, patch management, software updates, inventory tracking, and report generation. There are also modules for backup and user state management, according to Steve Creager, technical manager within the Research Information Services group.

As part of the research enterprise at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the IT group serves as a separate entity from the university's central IT department, which manages the enterprise systems and student support. Franseth and Creager's group is funded through research activity at the university, not through general fund or tuition monies. It offers a full-service IT department that includes programming, database and Web management, and technical support for more than 300 users.

According to Franseth, up until five years ago, his group was tracking help tickets on paper and through e-mail. In the interests of efficiency, they first acquired help desk software that was better than nothing, but still not a complete solution, he explained. In addition to the help desk software, Franseth's group was also using various software packages for monitoring the group's 15 servers. "It really didn't meet our needs, plus we still had a variety of other software packages" for tasks such as watching for software errors, virtual network computing (VNC) inventory, patch management, and script management, he said.

Despite running those five additional monitoring applications, Creager added, "We really had no reporting capabilities whatsoever." With the purchase of Kaseya, they were able to replace three monitoring applications along with two software systems shared with the main campus. The move from five discrete systems to one centralized product dropped their annual licensing cost to 41 percent of the previous yearly licensing costs, making the decision, Franseth said, "a no-brainer." (The savings included up-front costs extrapolated out.) "We got everything we had before, in a single system," Franseth said. The new Kaseya system also took over inventory management, which had also been handled on paper.

With the new help ticket software, system administrators can set up a field, then assign a service level agreement type that specifies a set time within which the help ticket must be resolved. If the ticket isn't closed as indicated, the software can send a message to a system administrator. In January, Franseth said, he compared the first half of 2008 against the second half, and found that open tickets dropped from 64 average daily open tickets in the first half of the year, to 39 in the second half--and Franseth said he hopes to improve those numbers even more. "Kaseya helped us be more aware of what we had to work on," he said. "We can address problems faster and more remotely."

In choosing a new system, Creager said he realized early on that Kaseya would bring a key feature: centralization. "Everything is right here" in the Web-based management console, he explained. "You don't have to jump from screen to screen." That saves time for IT staff, "and any time you can cut down on the time you spend on a problem, you're that much better off."

Another key feature of the Kaseya package is scalability. "Kaseya allows us to grow without having to go out and buy a new piece of software," Creager said. "We don't have to upgrade; we just install the agents." Adding a new department to those the group already supports means simply buying new agents from Kaseya for the new machines. The software agents are identical, whether used on PCs or Macs, and whether they are running on an administrative computer or an end-user machine, making management that much easier.

Remote management has been a big time-saver as well. Supporting one campus group used to mean a 10-minute walk across campus for a technician, who would examine the machine, diagnose the problem and return later with the proper software to fix it. Now, Franseth said, "We have remote control of that machine and we can install the software remotely." He estimated that his group has made 15 percent fewer physical calls in 2008, and anticipates an even bigger drop in 2009 when the numbers are in--perhaps to half the physical calls made previously.

Knowing the location of every computer his group is responsible for has yielded some quantifiable results: Prior to Kaseya, in 2008, Franseth didn't complete his IT inventory until mid-January. In 2009, with all equipment logged into the inventory management software, he finished on December 4. "From my standpoint," Franseth said, "that's essentially a month during which I wasn't wandering around buildings, looking in closets, trying to find missing PCs."

Kaseya consultants helped with the initial setup process, logging into the server remotely over a two-day period while the staff watched and asked questions. It was an extra expense that Franseth was skeptical of initially. In hindsight, he said, "That's an expense I do not regret. The setup went phenomenally smoothly. And we learned a lot more about how the system functioned than we would have had we tried to do [the setup] on our own."

The group is now pushing ahead to explore more uses for the software beyond the original intended tasks. For example, the group is now adding its service level agreements (SLAs) into the system, a use that Franseth said "wasn't even part of our thinking when we purchased the system."

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