Virtually United, Physically Divided: A Hybrid Approach to IT Consolidation

When the University of Oklahoma was faced with the daunting task of combining three different data centers, it opted to try something a little different.

Not all IT consolidation projects involve centralizing departments and bringing personnel together. At the University of Oklahoma, consolidation was more about standardizing and virtualizing back-end infrastructure to improve access and service to end users across three campuses in Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

“When we started this, we had a central IT department at each campus under one CIO, and while we often worked together collaboratively, we were all running separate systems and processes,” recalls Jennifer Pike, OU’s IT shared services program manager, who notes that the previous data center facilities at all three campuses were outdated and needed to be completely replaced. “We started looking at what’s possible, and how we can best allocate our budget and resources.”

The university had already obtained the funding to build three new data centers, one at each campus. Rather than consolidate into a single IT department, they opted to share the back-end infrastructure in a unique, hybrid approach.

“We still have three physical data centers at three different campuses, but we set them up so they virtually operate as one,” says David Horton, OU’s associate vice president of IT shared services. “It’s a private cloud approach that spans all of the campuses, but we deliver a single, unified wrapper of shared services around it, so it looks and feels consistent to all three campuses.”

Because all three data centers were built at the same time, OU was in the unique position of being able to purchase and implement standardized servers, storage solutions and networking infrastructure and connectivity.

Today, campus customers purchase services and create IT solutions from the Shared Services organization, which charges according to monthly consumption, while local campus IT departments continue to act as frontline contacts and technical support.

“By not consolidating, we’ve left the relationships and the cultures in place at the local campus level,” Pike says. “For example, customers at each campus call their own helpdesk and places an order for a service. Then behind the scenes, we’re all part of this fourth virtual organization, a shared services center that works across the campuses to provide those services.”

Horton says the approach values what’s different about the three campuses while still providing a consistent end-user experience, greater efficiencies and cost savings. He expects OU will generate nearly $18 million over five years. Customers who spent weeks purchasing a new physical server for their department can now order a virtual server online from the shared services organization and have it provisioned in less than a day. And it provides built-in disaster recovery capabilities, critical given the university’s location within Tornado Alley.

“This forced us to really think differently about the business of core IT services, by publishing standard priceing across our campuses and really understanding both our costs and what our customers needed,” Horton says. “Now, we’re looking at what’s next. How do we need to do in the future to further improve our sharing model for the good of our campuses, our IT personnel and our end users?”

Nov 09 2015

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