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Top 5 Advantages of Outsourcing IT Infrastructure for Universities

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Those ivy-encrusted university walls often conceal an alarming parallel: IT departments trapped by ivy-encrusted processes and infrastructure. Under-resourced IT teams are struggling to keep up with demand for new and upgraded services, never finding time, budget or support to make strategic infrastructure improvements.

Yet many campus IT managers are still uncertain where to get help.  On campuses without dedicated IT departments and ample budgets, staff are probably spread too thin to tackle everything at once.

It shouldn’t be a tough call. Outsourcing IT infrastructure can turn some of the thorniest problems into advantages. Let’s look at some of the top factors that can put college and university IT departments back in control.

  1. Shaving the Buck

    It’s no secret that campus IT budgets have been suffering for years. At the depth of the recession budget cuts affected as many as 50% of institutions of higher education, according to the 2013 Campus Computing Survey, though things are improving. This history leaves an aging IT infrastructure challenged by a growing need for campus IT support, from mobile apps and ubiquitous network requirements to online teaching and user support .

    To leverage limited budgets, some forward-looking institutions now contract for outsourced IT services in combination with public or private clouds. It’s a relatively quick win to supplement under-resourced campus IT infrastructure systems with colocated data centers. Peak 10, for example, provides up-to-date server and storage hardware, efficient networks, and trained on site staff 24/7. That’s a hard formula to replicate on smaller campuses.

    The budget advantages of outsourcing can be still more tangible. By colocating, you reduce the on-campus footprint of the data center, saving precious real estate, overhead, and HVAC-related costs. For a space-constrained urban campus, relocating the data center is an obvious way to avoid expansion. On any campus, the “green” impact on power consumption is easy to champion.

    Done right, there’s absolutely no doubt that outsourcing infrastructure can save money. Just don’t stop there. Focusing solely on dollar savings overlooks other significant advantages, which brings us to the next four.

  2. Supporting Natives of a 24/7 World

    It’s no secret that the class of 2014 was raised in a digital world. Internet Explorer was born in 1995, along with many members of today’s freshman class, starting a stampede into an online world that is now a necessity for young and old alike.

    And as every IT manager knows, the number of tablets, smartphones and laptops on campus far exceeds the number of people. Many institutions struggle to keep up with that rapidly-evolving demand for information funneled to countless devices.

    At any hour of the day or night, a professor may connect to an online learning management system (LMS) to post grades, update lesson plans or schedule student appointments. Students submit papers, share files and research academic topics – as well as pursue their non-academic life online. If the network can’t handle the traffic, IT gets the blame.

    The days of the central “student computing center” are over. The entire campus is the computing center. The right infrastructure partner works with campus IT to establish a savvy blend of onsite network architecture, resilient platform standards and responsive computing/storage capacity.

    But there’s another side to this coin.

  3. Security and Compliance

    The flip side to a widely accessible network is that it’s open to intrusion. For the past five years, the theft of a device and attacks on campus networks have by far been the most frequent security issues reported in the Campus Computing Survey.

    When the student population spends most of their waking hours inside the network, it’s inevitable that some student hacking will happen. Unfortunately, the threat can be far more sinister. Foreign spying on research data has now hit the radar of research universities. Outside attacks reach staggering volumes ─ as much as millions of attempts in a single week.

    Add to that the common IT headaches of viruses, spyware and password breaches, and you’ve got enough to occupy an IT team full-time.

    The right IT infrastructure partner is expert at making short work of these concerns. It can assemble Intrusion detection, firewall/content filtering, institution-wide SPAM/virus filtering and other techniques into a threat management configuration customized to your institution’s most pressing requirements.

    And we’d be remiss without touching on compliance. Because there are few education-targeted regulations, most institutions barely consider regulatory compliance outside of certain islands of information, such as health records and credit card data. However, as Cornell’s IT policy document points out, Google’s overt data mining practices in free student apps such as Gmail are in direct contradiction to the  Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)for student education records. The remedies aren’t difficult to achieve when institutions join forces with an infrastructure partner who is obsessive about compliance.

    Keeping campus IT secure isn’t sexy. But commercial data breaches in the news remind us that the impact to individual privacy and an institution’s reputation can be devastating. Pick a partner who will stay on top of evolving security developments, and let your on-campus IT team focus on more strategic tasks.

  4. Scaling for the Crunch Times

    Most institutions of higher education are seasonal. Some smaller colleges vanish almost completely during the summer; all institutions have an ebb and flow to campus life. And that is clearly reflected in IT, where capacity management quickly hits the wall when demand exceeds the plan.

    On-campus demand peaks around registration periods, the ends of semesters and special events. Increasingly, the release of online games or streaming videos also creates unanticipated network spikes from resident populations. Either kind of network overload quickly generates complaints from faculty and students alike, particularly when academic functions are blocked.

    Fortunately, an outsourced IT infrastructure can readily provide load balancing and surge responsiveness. Your infrastructure partner monitors its entire network for trouble spots, enabling you to scale up storage or network to meet occasional high-capacity demands.

    Off campus, your web presence can make or break student application quality. Utah Valley University’s analysis reveals that “92 percent of prospective students reported that they would remove an institution from their potential list if they couldn’t find the information they were seeking.” If the school’s public site is unresponsive during peak student application periods, today’s digital denizens are going to bail out of the search. Annoying your best candidates will dramatically reduce the quality of the application pool.

    Happily, keeping the web site up, fast and functional year-round is a common rationale for selecting an IT infrastructure partner. Between robust infrastructure build-out and advanced monitoring tools, there’s no reason for campus IT staff to worry about downtime.

  5. Oiling the Squeaky Wheels

    Every IT department has them – maybe on sticky notes, perhaps on a white board: those lists  of annoying, persistent tasks that drive everyone crazy.

    • Technology transitions and upgrades
    • Scheduling around the student staff’s fluctuating schedules
    • The pile of trouble tickets
    • Managing off-hours requests

    Imagine if you had a partner organization staffed around the clock to fill in the schedule gaps and keep the infrastructure humming. Then your team could focus on your most strategic activities – whether it is redesigning core applications, creating new information initiatives or supporting new departmental needs.

    Each “squeaky wheel” may seem small, but in aggregate they interfere with your ability to work efficiently. Outsourcing the right aspects of your IT infrastructure can stop the squeak, making for smooth traveling.

Where to Start

The good news about outsourcing IT infrastructure is that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” The right service providers will work with you collaboratively, shifting just the parts of your operation that make sense.

So start by listing your key objectives. What hinders you most in delivering exceptional campus IT services? How do you envision IT services being organized long-term? What are your institution’s strategic goals that IT can support?

Then, identify what’s the most troublesome today, and make that the launching point for conversations with your IT infrastructure partner. Solve a couple highly visible problems, and you’ll build momentum for the less-visible, more strategic functions.

The smart guys at Cornell University take the thinking a step further. Why not use an infrastructure review as the launching point to unify loosely federated departmental IT services? Cornell’s template suggests that campus IT fiefdoms can be consolidated – diplomatically – to eliminate redundancies, upgrade interconnections and maximize service delivery. Even if this isn’t on your near-term agenda, it’s worth making room for in the planning process.

Better budget control, better service delivery, more strategic focus: outsourcing IT infrastructure the right way is a huge advantage.

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest