Rearchitecting IT: Simplify. Simplify
- By Joseph C. Panettieri
Six vital steps to
When university CIOs look back
on 2006, they will likely deem
this “The Year of Simplified IT
Infrastructure.” From Alaska
to New York, universities are
overhauling their IT infrastructures
to include fewer standards,
fewer vendors, and fewer
potential integration issues. The goals are clear: Even as IT
departments strive to improve student, faculty, and benefactor
services, they must also squeeze hidden costs out of their
By leveraging fewer vendors and standardizing on a core set
of products, universities can gain economies of scale in terms
of IT acquisition and support costs. “It’s simple math,” says
Cheryl Currid, a former CIO who now runs Currid & Company, an IT consulting firm in Houston, TX.
“When you deal with fewer vendors, you can negotiate better
licensing terms and reduce your organizational training costs.
The trick is making sure you standardize on an infrastructure
that truly meets your current and future needs.”
Consider, for instance, the University of Alaska, which
has been working overtime to consolidate operations and IT
standards across 16 campuses. “The goal is to improve efficiency,
reduce unnecessary redundancy, diminish fragmentation
of services, and contain future costs,” says Steve
Smith, the university’s CIO.
On the opposite side of the country, the situation is similar
at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of New
York Institute of Technology, the nation’s second largest
medical school. According to Chellappa Kumar, CIO of
NYCOM, all technology purchases are now carefully scrutinized
to ensure new projects adhere to the school’s existing
Gone are the days when university networks were built on
a hodgepodge of server operating systems, databases, network
switch platforms, and telecom systems (see “A Painful
History Lesson,” for a look back at past problems).
Six Secrets to Success
Admittedly, simplifying and securing an IT infrastructure isn’t
easy. It often requires rethinking years of hardware and software
investments, and a gradual migration to modern systems.
Even so, universities can take six practical steps to success (see
the accompanying summary, “6 Secrets to Success.”).
Step 1: Audit Your Software Infrastructure
The first step may sound elementary, but it’s surprising how
many institutions let this step slip by them: It requires reviewing
and auditing software licenses across a university. In some
cases, schools will find that their current license agreements
don’t match actual software deployment figures, and that can be a mighty expensive mistake.
Institutions with too few licenses risk
lofty fines (some can exceed $100,000!)
from the Business Software Alliance, a watchdog group that
fights software piracy. On the flipside,
universities with too many licenses are
paying for unneeded software.
That’s troubling news, considering that
91 percent of IT managers say their primary
systems management challenge is
reducing the cost of software licensing,
according to Decision Analyst, a market research
firm in Arlington, TX.
The fastest way for universities to slash
software costs is to determine which programs
are installed on the network, and
cancel licenses for unused software.
Instead of physically visiting each PC, IT
administrators can leverage administration
software from companies like LANDesk
perform global network audits that identify
areas where licenses can be reduced.
Baylor University (TX), for instance,
uses the LANDesk Management Suite to
take inventory of all PC and Macintosh
systems, according to Charlotte Lenox,
IT business manager at the school. LANDesk
allows the university to produce
detailed software inventory reports for
improved budgeting, and also cuts software
installation costs because applications
and utilities can be deployed
automatically over the network.
Yet, some universities have found
innovative ways to further reduce licensing
costs. The University of Alaska, for
instance, leverages software asset management
(SAM) solutions from Sassafras
Sassafras’s flagship product, known as
KeyServer, enforces software licenses
and allows users to share licenses across
approved university systems. The net
result, in many cases, is lower per-user
licensing costs, notes University of
Alaska CIO Smith.
6 Secrets to Success
- Audit your software infrastructure and eliminate unneeded
licenses, to reduce overall costs.
- Evaluate your current server applications and consolidate
onto three or fewer major suppliers, in order to negotiate
volume license discounts.
- Centralize and automate help desk functions, such as
password resets, in order to reduce personnel support costs.
- Address convergence and storage challenges by planning
adequately for voice over IP, video on demand, and other
- Embrace virtualization software to improve server utilization,
consolidate applications onto fewer servers, and free up
room in your data center.
- Adopt holistic security, making secure application design
and deployment a top priority—rather than an afterthought— on every IT project.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Current Applications
As the software market continues to
consolidate, so too should a university’s
application platforms. In particular,
keep close tabs on Oracle, which has acquired PeopleSoft
and Siebel Systems in a bid to beat back
foreign competition from Germany’s
Oracle has spent recent months evangelizing
Fusion Middleware, a set of
software products that improve information
sharing between Oracle’s databases
and myriad applications. Still,
“Fusion Middleware is more than marketing
hype,” says Mike Elgan, a technology
consultant (and former editor of
Windows magazine) who frequently
moderates CIO events across the globe.
“Universities should make sure their
application architects are keeping close
tabs on Fusion Middleware. If you
understand where Oracle is heading,
you’ll be ahead of the game as you strive
to link your Oracle databases to online
tuition payment systems, online giving,
and other automated financial systems.”
Just ask administrators at California
Polytechnic State University-San Luis
Obispo. There, CIO Tim Kearns relies on
Oracle Collaboration Suite (an e-mail,
scheduling, and content management system),
the Oracle database, and People-
Soft applications. With a nod to a serviceoriented
architecture-based strategy, Cal
Poly is evaluating how to best integrate
learning management system with Oracle’s
collaboration tools. Moreover, the
university is planning to use Oracle business-
analysis tools to provide improved
decision-support capability to end users.
Now is a prime time to weigh future
application purchases. Locked in heated
competition, Oracle and SAP are offering
deep discounts to customers who
make the leap from rival platforms to
their respective offerings. In some cases,
Oracle and SAP are waving up-front
licensing costs, though annual maintenance
costs can still run a large organization
(such as a university) $100,000
or more, notes analysts at Gartner, the Stamford, CTbased
market research firm.
Step 3: Centralize and Automate Your Help Desk
Another key infrastructure consideration
is the university help desk. Frequently,
help desk phone lines are decentralized and flooded by users who have forgotten
or misplaced their passwords. Resetting
those passwords manually can be an
expensive process, typically costing $14
to $28 per incident, estimates Gartner.
Eager to eliminate such costs, the University
of Alaska has simplified password
management across its network. Specifically,
the university licensed P-Synch
password synchronization software from
M-Tech Information Technology. The software securely
manages user passwords across the
organization, and drives down operational
costs because users can reset their
lost or forgotten passwords through a
self-service application that requires no
help desk assistance.
AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY, LANDesk
is cutting software installation costs.
Step 4: Address Convergence and Storage Issues
All IT infrastructure projects require
careful consideration of the future. For
instance, many universities already run
data, voice, and video on their IP networks.
And bandwidth-intensive traffic
will only increase as students embrace
video-enabled instant messaging, online
movie downloads, and other multimedia
services that are rapidly moving into the
As movies and other content converge
onto IP networks, schools will require
greater and greater amounts of storage.
Gartner estimates the typical business or
university will see its storage requirements
double or triple every 18 months.
Such is the case at NYCOM, where class
lectures and other digital content are
available on multiprocessor-based servers
from Dell. But as each
new lecture comes online, NYCOM finds
itself in a never-ending race to expand its
server and storage systems.
One practical solution involves deploying
blade servers, which consume far less
space than traditional rack servers. Not
surprisingly (thanks to their thin, spacesaving
design), sales of blade servers are
rising swiftly: During mid-2005, yearover-
year blade server sales jumped 67
percent, according to the International
But deploying densely designed blade
servers in a university data center can
lead to significant heat issues. Indeed,
organizations using dual-processor blade
servers report heat output of as much as
14 kilowatts per server rack, according to
The Uptime Institute,
a NM-based firm that specializes in data
center design. Aware of these heat issues,
companies such as the American Power
Conversion Corporation now offer cooling systems and consulting
services for organizations seeking
to standardize on blade-based systems.
Step 5: Go Virtual
In order to consolidate applications onto
fewer servers, many universities (and
businesses) are deploying virtualization
and exploring the use of grid computing.
Popularized by EMC’s VMware software family, virtualization
software allows a server to easily run
multiple operating systems and applications.
For instance, a single server could
run a Linux-based Oracle database and an
unrelated Windows-based e-mail system,
side-by-side. Through virtualization software,
university CIOs can therefore
ensure that processing power on each
server d'esn’t go to waste.
Consider the situation at the University
of Missouri-Rolla, which deployed
VMware on Dell servers as part of a
strategy to consolidate systems, according
to Brian Buege, director of networks
and computing systems at the school.
The university replaced 65 servers—
some of which had 5 percent utilization
rates—with nine Dell PowerEdge
servers running VMware. The project
freed up one-third of the university’s
server space in the data center, and the
nine new servers have 40 to 50 percent
utilization rates. In other words, the university
leverages VMware to complete
far more tasks with far less hardware.
What’s more, as an extension of virtualization,
many universities are exploring
service-oriented architecture (SOA), which leverage XML and other standards
to simplify how applications are
designed. In layman’s terms, serviceoriented
software is a loosely coupled
application that dynamically and “on
demand” integrates people, processes,
and information within and across business
and application boundaries, according
IT Infrastructure Streamliners: The Net Net
LOOKING FOR SIMPLICITY in action?
Heed these shining examples.
University of Alaska: Leverages a
centralized software licensing system to
share applications between students and
ultimately lower ongoing licensing costs.
Baylor University: Uses LANDesk software to take
inventory of hardware and software,
thereby generating more accurate IT
University of Missouri-Rolla: Deployed
EMC’s VMware software
to greatly consolidate servers and
improve server utilization rates.
New York College of Osteopathic
Medicine: Standardized on centralized
Dell servers to host
video-based professor lectures and other
Just about every major software company—
from BEA Systems and Microsoft, to Oracle—now evangelizes the
value of SOA, but schools should proceed
with a healthy dose of skepticism.
“SOA is for real, but you’re not going to
shut down your university to rewrite all
of your applications overnight,” says
Edward Golod, president of Revenue
Accelerators, a technology
consulting firm in New York. “As
a first step, each time you consider licensing
an application, ask the vendor about
its SOA strategy, and be sure to compare
answers among multiple vendors.”
Step Six: Embrace Holistic Security
How can security be at the bottom—
rather than the top—of our IT simplification
list? Simply put, security should
be a central consideration in every IT
project, rather than something that’s
bolted onto an application after the fact.
The typical enterprise now spends
about 6 percent of its IT budget on security-
related gear, such as antivirus software
and firewalls, according to Gartner.
But that figure is misleading and likely
conservative, since many applications
and hardware platforms are designed
with security functions from the get-go.
“You can’t think about security in a
vacuum,” says Sanjay Anand, best-selling
author of The Sarbanes-Oxley Guide for
Finance and Information Technology
Professionals (Wiley, 2006). “It has to be
part of every IT conversation.”
Instead of buying best-of-breed security
solutions from multiple vendors,
many university CIOs expect the security
market to rapidly consolidate around
a handful of vendors, including Cisco
Systems, Symantec, RSA Security, and Microsoft.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced
the US availability of Windows Live
OneCare, an all-in-one, automatic, selfupdating
PC maintenance, support, and
security service—a move designed to
safeguard Windows-based enterprises
and steal market share from Symantec.
With this vendor showdown in mind,
Elgan expects CIOs to gain the upper
hand as they negotiate security software
A Painful History Lesson
SOMETIMES, YOU’VE GOT TO LOOK BACK before you can move forward. That’s especially
true in the world of IT, where history lessons can help CIOs avoid repeating problems
from years past.
Consider the following scenarios: During the 1980s and early 1990s, many universities
embraced a mix of system software from Microsoft, Apple, Novell, IBM, and now-defunct companies
such as Banyan Systems and Digital Equipment. Atop these systems, many universities
deployed a range of databases from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft,
Sybase, and the former Informix (acquired by IBM in 2001). Universities
funneled all of that data through network plumbing supplied by Cisco Systems and dozens of rivals.
The net result? Many universities’ IT infrastructures earned failing grades during the
1990s and early 2000s. Decentralized decision-making frequently led to incompatible
systems, security lapses, and cost overruns for unexpected integration projects.
“It was common to hear about a medical school and a business school within the
same university having completely incompatible voice or data systems,” laments Edward
Golod, president of Revenue Accelerators, New York-based technology
sales consultants. “Typically, by the time a university discovered the compatibility
issues, the IT budget was already spent.”
The turning point came in 2002, as government regulations written for the corporate
sector increasingly influenced university operations. Sarbanes-Oxley, for instance, is a
government mandate that strives to ensure businesses deliver accurate and trustworthy
financial results. The regulation—written to prevent repeats of the financial scandals at
Enron, WorldCom, and other major organizations—includes guidance for managing and
securing IT systems.
Many university trustees (including current and former business executives) quickly
realized that they needed to follow corporate America’s lead. “Academia couldn’t proceed
with a ‘business as usual’ attitude,” says Golod. “[Institutions] had to simplify and
safeguard their IT systems in order to ensure peace of mind among trustees, and effective
information flow across their campuses.”
University administrators and technologists
who focus on simplifying IT infrastructures
won’t be disappointed, for the
benefits are profound: With fewer applications
and network platforms to support,
IT staffs can increasingly focus on innovation
rather than maintenance issues. A
particularly pleasant byproduct: Innovation
in the classroom often leads to high
praise from students and parents alike.
For instance, 90 percent of Alaska parents
of school-age children say they would
encourage their kids to attend the University
of Alaska, according to McDowell
AK-based market research firm. For University
of Alaska CIO Smith, a few more
IT victories will surely win over the
remaining 10 percent.