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Reducing Annual IT Operating Budget by 30 Percent
While Achieving State-of-the-Art Systems

Lake Tahoe CC logoLike many California colleges in the current budgetary crisis, Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) has very little discretionary funding available for systems sustenance, let alone advancement.

As of early 2009, LTCC had an antique Jenzabar system with no maintenance for more than five years, a MS Server 2003 domain with some 20 mostly obsolete servers (a majority on Server 2000), old LAN equipment and an average age of PC desktops—all XP—exceeding six years.

While a Title III Federal Grant provided funding for the purchase and the direct (consulting) implementation costs of a new Datatel Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) over a five year period, it provided no funding for the additional server infrastructure required or any renovation of the existing software or hardware systems. Faced with this reality, it was clear that we needed to “shift our paradigm” if we were to be successful in simultaneously implementing Datatel and bringing our systems to currency.

Zero-Basing Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure

To reduce the costs of renovation, we chose to move to virtual machine technology, reducing our onsite server inventory by over 65 percent. To add the server capacity necessary to install and implement Datatel, we chose to contract for a VM server farm with a commercial provider in Sacramento, avoiding the large capital cost outlay in favor of a “pay as you go for what you need” model. We joined the Virtual Machine (VM) farm in Sacramento with our domain in South Lake Tahoe via our CENIC connection. This allowed us to dispose of our obsolete backup systems in favor of VM replication between our data center and the commercial data center.

server stock shotTo address our obsolete desktops, we are moving all faculty and staff desktops to MS Terminal Server 2008, which allows us to continue to use our antique PC’s as dumb terminals until death. This “replace on death” model avoids the need to spend over $800 per unit for replacement PC’s, in favor of $400 per unit for diskless terminals as our available spares are depleted. We are consolidating all our printing onto Canon iR MFPs and HP LaserJets, flushing all of the inkjet devices in inventory and reducing our total printer inventory, and per page costs, by almost 60 percent.

To address instructional PC support, such as for labs, smart classrooms, learning centers and library,  we chose MS Application Virtualization, to significantly reduce the cost of maintaining and applying dozens of different “images” to hundreds of PCs. As with Terminal Server, the instructional PCs are completely standard and their “personality” is changed by the domain logon, allowing much more flexible use of our rooms and an 80 percent reduction in LAN support time against the “image” model.

Zero-Basing Business Applications and Processes

In order to reduce programming and support costs, the multiplicity of software applications supporting college operations must communicate efficiently and users must receive required information in a timely fashion. As the core of College operations, the ERP is the standard against which all other applications are judged. For this reason, LTCC chose to establish MS Server 2008, MS Exchange, MS SQL Server and MS SharePoint as the foundation of all College operational applications. In addition, we are proceeding with our ERP implementation on the basis that “the college adapts its business processes to Datatel, not the obverse."

Abstract swirlsIn order to eliminate the business process bottlenecks and significant staff costs associated with disparate systems, we are converting all ancillary systems—attendance, curriculum, scheduling, helpdesk, etc—to the above standards. Combined with workflow management, the common SQL Server database, analysis and reporting tools reduce IT and staff time required to accomplish tasks by an order of magnitude. It is important to remember that the total cost of systems includes not just the labor expended in IT, but the user department labor required to execute the business processes defined by and driven by our technology.

Technology Consolidation: Going Holistic

To build a bigger pool of opportunities for operating cost savings, consolidation of operational functions that are technology-driven enables improved productivity through integration and task sharing. In the case of LTCC, telephone systems, reprographics, media services and other technology-based services were scattered across different departments in 2009. As we consolidate these functions under a single management we enable the replacement of an obsolete telephone system with an IT-managed VoIP system tightly integrated with MS Exchange for unified and emergency messaging. Similarly, merging the multi-function copier printer administration (Reprographics) with the LAN printer management (IT) enables the consolidation of devices, reducing capital costs and per page printing costs, as well as reducing support time. Lastly, the larger number of staff under single administration enables better cross-training and cross-utilization of limited staff resources.

Implications and Opportunities for the Future of College Computing

Nothing that we are doing at LTCC is unique. We are following best practices found throughout the public and private sector. We hope that other California community colleges will adopt similar, compatible models of computing to enable greater cooperation and reduced costs within the CCC system. The opportunities are significant:

  • Real-time disaster recovery through shared public and/or private data center facilities across California;
  • Reduced costs through sharing of standardized application and systems support resources (vendor and college-based);
  • Reduce operational costs through sharing of best practices and business processes across California colleges.

To achieve these and many other direct and indirect benefits for our colleges, we must abandon conventional wisdom, embrace best technology and practices and work cooperatively. This means getting out of our “technological comfort zones” and embracing new technologies, but that is who we are in IT.

Often lost in the discussion of education at the community colleges is that our successful college IT practitioners are the true “perpetual students” on campus.


Craig Brinkman is a guest opinion writer for CCC TechEDge News and
the project manager for the Tahoe Virtualization Project at Lake Tahoe Community College.