Ryan Petersen is Managing Editor of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education.

May 19 2009

Balancing Creativity with Practicality in IT

Ever practical, IT managers at colleges and universities are guiding their schools through the downturn by deploying proven technologies such as thin clients, security and virtualization. These technologies help reduce costs, add management efficiencies and protect the school from costly security breaches and potential lawsuits.

While a measured, conservative approach makes sense in this economy, a certain amount of “out of the box” thinking may come in handy as well.

One good example is Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis., which shares a storage area network with the Appleton Area School District. Each organization backs up the other’s disaster recovery capa bilities (see “Bolster Your IT Budget,” on Page 38).

“We try to be creative in our collaborations,” says Jerry Ader, Fox Valley’s network services manager, who adds that collaboration saves time and money.

Ader says the school’s approach is simply to find ways to make creative solutions work.

That’s what four Virginia colleges did in pooling resources to develop the virtual computer lab, an online lab that is open 24x7 (see “Virtual Cooperation,” on Page 36). The VCL is headed up by George Mason University, together with James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William & Mary.

With the VCL, students and faculty are no longer bound by the limitations of office hours at a computer lab. And because the four schools share in the cost of the applications, money will be saved on licensing fees, as well as the cost of maintaining a large and expensive fleet of computers.

Brass Tacks

While the creative solutions deployed by Fox Valley Technical College and the four schools in Virginia are great examples of innovative approaches, IT managers at universities will need a strong mix of creative and practical thinking to succeed.

You’ll never receive sign-off on a creative project if you can’t deliver value deploying the standard gear. Along with server virtualization, another technology that can usually deliver a strong ROI case for IT managers is thin clients.

The group that founded the Virtual Computing Lab in Virginia hopes to expand the program from four to 14 colleges in the upcoming year and ultimately offer the service statewide.

Source: George Mason University

Our article “Thin PCs Cut the Fat,” on Page 32, looks at how three different universities benefit from the advantages thin clients offer. At Cleveland State University, a priority was providing students with a PC-like experience, but with the centralized management benefits of thin clients.

The dental school at the University of Pittsburgh simply needed to replace its aging fleet of PCs, many of which were more than six years old and constantly breaking down. And finally, Murray State University’s College of Humanities and Fine Arts was looking to save money. It would have cost the school $150,000 to replace all the PCs in five classrooms and two small computer labs. Opting for a complete thin client system cost $98,000 — a savings of $52,000.

These are the kinds of bottom-line results that college IT managers can sell to their administrators. Finding the right balance between the creative and the practical may be your greatest challenge. It won’t be easy, but once the economy rebounds, the survival skills you learned during this period will make your IT department stronger.

Managing Editor, ryanpet@cdw.com

<p>Matthew Gilson</p>