One of the fastest growing cost centers at any organization whether it is a university or business is the growth of IT. There is no question that IT provides incredible value to both advancing research and education and, in the future, the demand for more IT services are only going to grow. But with growing pressure on universities to reduce costs there is going to be a very close look at the IT department and demand for greater rationalization. As I have blogged before IT alone represents anywhere from 25-40% of the electrical energy consumption at most institutions. Many universities now manage 1- 5 MW data centers, which is the power consumption of a small town or factory. IT departments are also required to physically manage thousands of servers, Internet access points, wireless infrastructure and a host of other services. Does all this IT infrastructure and support services fit with the primary mandate of a university?
Many governments and institutions are starting to rethink the primary role of IT and like the business world before them are starting to look at outsourcing many IT functions, not only to save money but to also to provide new IT services. The recent announcement by AARnet in their 5 year to offer NOC services to Australian universities is a good example of this trend - something that has been trialled with the Australian Catholic University and another as-yet unnamed university since late last year. The University of Western Australia’s recent announcement to consolidate and outsource all their computing is another good example as well as University of Ottawa’s decision to outsource management of their Wifi network.
Outsourcing university IT I believe is going to a growing and important trend. R&E networks and other national IT organizations like JISC, SURF, Educause, etc who are already starting to look at partnering with industry to broker and develop out sourced services. In time funding councils and governments, in some jurisdictions may need to mandate greater IT consolidation and outsourcing as we have seen with government departments and hospitals.
The future of eInfrastructure or Cyber-infrastructure I think will also reflect this trend as evidenced in a recent presentation given by Ian Foster to the NSF where he argues for a new “national cyber-infrastructure strategy to provide more capability for more people at less cost.” In his presentation he argues that we need national or even pan-national third party organizations to provide a host of research IT services that not only reduce costs but provide value added functionality to the researcher. The ESnet Science DMZ is a good example of this type of approach.
Ian Foster presentation to NSF on new cyber-infrastructure vision
AARnet 5 year plan and outsourcing NOCs
University of Western Australia
University of Ottawa outsources their Wifi network
ESnet Science DMZ
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