IT Consolidation: What Every CIO Needs to Know

For many CIOs, the following scenario is all too familiar: You step into a new role at an organization and inherit a highly fragmented IT environment and are immediately charged with consolidating processes, infrastructure and services. Such was the case when I arrived at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) more than six years ago as the executive director of University Technology Services.

For many years, the University had no permanent IT head As a result, it found itself harboring a number of different departments with overlapping responsibilities, which created significant costs and operational inefficiencies.

As are many CIOs brought into a disjointed IT environment, I was tasked with creating an overarching vision to streamline the infrastructure to improve day-to-day operations and application functions. As a senior member of IEEE and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), I drew upon ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) best practices to serve as the framework for managing our IT services. The following are the major lessons learned while implementing an IT-consolidation program that not only met the University’s current needs, but would support future IT demands as well

Plan for Future Growth, Not Current Needs

As part of our ERP implementation, we took the opportunity to refresh much of our aging hardware infrastructure. We implemented a Fujitsu storage area network (SAN) solution that provided us with a tiered storage capability–from Fibre Channel to SATA. We also upgraded the Sun Solaris servers that power the SunGard Banner ERP system.

Although we had more storage than we needed at the time, we wanted to implement a tiered storage solution that would meet the University’s demands for years to come. Installing a storage solution that was able to meet impending demands–rather than merely maxing out the capacity of an existing solution prior to an upgrade–ensures that our infrastructure is prepared to handle any growth that comes our way.

Incremental Virtualization Proves Cost Effective

Virtualizing our servers was the next logical step in our IT consolidation program, for it allowed us to add new services and grow existing ones without acquiring more equipment. We evaluated different virtualization technologies, and, about five years ago, selected VMware, which is currently running on about 60 physical servers.

We are also leveraging virtualization capabilities on many of the Sun Solaris servers using Solaris Containers.  What’s more, our upgrade to version 8 of the ERP solution based on SunGard Banner allowed us to use existing server capacity without purchasing additional Solaris boxes.

Consolidate Backup and Recovery to Same Time and Money

When I arrived at Northeastern Illinois University, Symantec NetBackup was part of the backup and recovery infrastructure; however, it was only used for the Solaris environment. A different solution was used for our Windows servers. With standardization at the forefront of my efforts to rationalize the university’s IT environment, we opted to consolidate all backup and recovery to NetBackup.

We saw immediate results after the implementation. Previously, we had two team members managing backups — one for our Windows servers and one for our Solaris environment. By standardizing everything onto this single platform we were able to reallocate the time that one of our staff members spent managing backups and the associated tasks.

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