Top-Ten IT Issues for Higher Education, 2013*
1. Leveraging the wireless and device explosion on campus
2. Improving student outcomes through an approach that leverages technology
3. Developing an institution-wide cloud strategy to help the institution select the right sourcing and solution strategies
4. Developing a staffing and organizational model to accommodate the changing IT environment and facilitate openness and agility
5. Facilitating a better understanding of information security and finding appropriate balance between infrastructure openness and security
6. Funding information technology strategically
7. Determining the role of online learning and developing a sustainable strategy for that role
8. Supporting the trends toward IT consumerization and bring-your-own-device
9. Transforming the institution’s business with information technology
10. Using analytics to support critical institutional outcomes
* Educause Magazine June/July 2013
“Welcome to the Connected Age: Top-Ten IT Issues, 2013”
by Susan Grajek and the 2012-13 EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel
While the wonder of technology has made our world smaller in terms of connectivity and easier in regards to productivity, technology itself has become increasingly more complex and difficult to maintain. Ever since Ottawa University has had an Information Technology (IT) department, that department, along with all of the systems and data associated with it, has been housed on The College campus in Ottawa, Kansas, but has grown to service adult sites and academic delivery in five states and online.
“Despite being the historic center of the University, The College campus is the least desirable of our locations to house a wide-area network,” says Chief Information Officer Dr. Jack Maxwell. “As a small, rural community, Ottawa has the lowest level of services provided by outside vendors.” AT&T, for example, is the only commercial telecommunications provider in the area. Should there be a serious outage, OU would have no connection to the outside world.
An even broader implication would be a natural disaster or terror attack that obliterates the University’s servers housed at The College. While such a disaster may only hit the city of Ottawa, Kansas, the reality is that OU’s other campuses would come to a screeching halt, as well, because they are supported by the systems and data housed at the residential campus. What that does to the student experience and the University’s bottom line in a matter of days could be devastating.
Understanding the consequences of such a scenario, Maxwell began working on a solution two years ago that would ensure business continuity for the entire University in the event of a disaster or other disruption in IT services.
“What has happened in the industry is the emergence of cooperative locations facilities, or co-los, that take all the data from an organization’s servers and transport or transfer it into the co-lo,” explains Maxwell. Ottawa University is currently on an accelerated timeline to transition its systems and servers to AOS, a co-lo in Kansas City, by October.
Based on what Maxwell has been told by many vendors, Ottawa University is in the top five percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. to transfer its systems to a co-lo at this level. “This is really a progressive and strategic move on the part of the University,” he says. “It’s not risky, but it is very bold because it is breaking down some old thought patterns that most universities and organizations are reluctant to give up. One of my roles at this institution is to keep people thinking forward, about where we need to be in five years. If we’re going to become the kind of institution we’ve outlined in Vision 2020, we have to stay in business. From a technology standpoint, this transition is a major step in making sure that happens.”
Far beyond data storage, the co-lo will provide a number of other benefits to the University. Because it utilizes multiple providers, the co-lo can migrate services to another provider in the event of an outage, if needed, allowing OU to stay up and running instead of “waiting it out.” Another benefit is standardized environmental conditions, such as consistent temperatures and humidity levels, along with the uninterrupted power capabilities of massive generators.
One of the greatest advantages of the co-lo is the superior security it offers. Should there be a catastrophe of some type, data is secure off-site at the co-lo, which is itself backed up at a minimum of one other site. This will provide invaluable peace of mind that day-to-day operations can be maintained regardless of outward circumstances beyond the institution’s control.
Beyond the physical advantages of moving Ottawa University’s servers to a co-lo are the services associated with it. Engineers will monitor our equipment and networks around the clock to proactively identify issues that may affect business continuity. And because the co-lo deals with so many large and small clients, it will advise the University on best practices. “That is a huge benefit that will keep us on the cutting edge,” says Maxwell.
By handing off the “back-end” of IT to a co-lo, Maxwell anticipates being able to re-focus his team’s time, energy and resources on academic support – specifically Project Virtuoso (see page 3) and Blackboard initiatives. “We currently spend a lot of time maintaining this technical infrastructure,” says Maxwell. “Now we will have an institution that can focus on product that involves technology. So this is a slam dunk in that respect.”
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