Why Consolidate?

Information Technology consolidation is about making IT more efficient and effective. The benefits of this effort encompass all services and activities enabled or supported by IT: research and education, campus communication and collaboration, business processes, data use and reuse, staff training, and more.

Information Technology at UCI has been heading in the direction of greater integration for quite some time.  IT professionals long ago realized that they all serve the same clients – UCI’s faculty, students and staff.  However, the seams between different IT units hamper efforts to provide service: inter-unit processes cannot be fully automated; user interfaces vary from application to application; data does not flow smoothly from its point of origin to distributed systems where it is needed; campus leadership does not have universal access to information that facilitates decision making.  Provost Gottfredson’s consolidation directive will allow us to pick up the pace of integration and reduce redundant activities, focusing on those that require more attention.

Every unit has its own business processes; while some relate to unique business functions, many could be the same from unit to unit.  Despite such similarities, each unit has been left to implement its own business automation.  Examples of this include time and attendance and local budget management and tracking systems.  Each unit configures the software used on desktop computers by its staff in its own way, has its own desktop support operation, does its own security patching, and has its own file and application servers, server rooms, and other IT infrastructure.  Several units operate their own email systems rather then using central email services.  Many units operate their own instructional computing labs, even though they all provide the same basic function (with the exception of specialized software needs).  The majority of this infrastructure can be shared, resulting in higher quality at the same or less cost.

Small IT groups on campus face significant challenges in keeping up with evolving demands.  It is not uncommon for a unit’s few staff to be expected to handle all aspects of IT:  routine desktop services, smart-phone support, server and information security management, and software development or maintenance.  On top of this, they must be experts on all applications the unit requires to operate.  The reality is that IT is a complex and ever-evolving area that requires specialized expertise that is most readily available in a larger organization.  A key example is information security, which demands more and more attention due to an evolving Internet environment and threats that change daily.

No one expects IT consolidation to be easy or to happen overnight.  It will be a challenge to create a large, central IT organization with responsiveness on par with that now enjoyed by some departments in today’s distributed model.  The current poor budget climate will not make the effort any easier, although it certainly makes it more important.  Successful consolidation will require creative organizational approaches, as well as excellent communication, flexibility, and assistance from all parties.

In the end, IT consolidation is about making IT, and the breadth of processes and activities it supports, significantly more efficient and effective.  It would be difficult to put a dollar amount on the savings or cost avoidance that will come from IT integration, but fully leveraging every hour our IT professionals put into support activities will have a significant benefit to the overall productivity of the campus.

Where Do We Want to End Up?

As we head down the road of changing UCI’s approach to Information Technology, it is helpful to paint a picture of where we want to end up.  Although it will take many years to get there, together we can build a computing environment wherein the quality of services will not depend on variable factors such as the resources local units have been able to invest in IT.  Recognizing that IT is critical to all university activities, our IT environment will be universal to all UCI “knowledge workers.”

Our future integrated IT environment will enable every process that can significantly benefit from automation to be available online with consistent interfaces.  We will use the same IT systems from department to department, reducing training time as staff relocate and/or have to learn new functions.  We can look forward to having data entered a single time and instantly shared with all applications that require it.  Data can be mined to produce information that is made available to decision makers interactively.

IT assistance will be available both through self-service tools and a responsive central help desk. The help desk will be able to triage problems remotely and dispatch assistance from regional support centers as needed. Failed desktop computers will be replaced very quickly, without losing files or user customization.  Security patches will be coordinated campus-wide, ensuring that systems are not vulnerable to new threats any longer than absolutely necessary.

IT staff will be able to focus their talents in specific areas.  For example, software maintainers and programmers can focus on projects with greater efficiency than is possible now (as they are interrupted to handle support issues). In addition to receiving direction from functional units, programmers will have access to the senior developers, specialized technical expertise, and IT leadership found in an appropriately staffed, modern IT organization.  Programmers will use common development and operating frameworks that allow them to take advantage of pre-existing code libraries, user interface tools, and other assets that help them work more effectively.  This results in applications that can easily be integrated as a part of a consistent end-user experience, making them easier to use, and easier to support by other programmers.

UCI will increasingly turn to externally available software packages to augment or replace homegrown IT solutions.  Commercial software will play a role, but the many open and community source systems that are becoming available will be an especially important component of our campus IT strategy.  This will allow us to leverage local programming talent by factoring in the resources of the higher education and open source communities as a whole.

IT services will run on “virtualized” servers housed in energy-efficient data centers. Virtualized servers make more efficient use of capital resources, and can greatly improve reliability and business continuity by automatically moving functions to backup hardware when primary hardware fails, allowing work to continue uninterrupted.  We will create a shared approach to operating servers and server rooms that minimizes costs in energy and support labor.

In short, the IT environment will be highly integrated and responsive, and will greatly facilitate the conduct of university business, research, and education.  This will help pave the way for UCI’s continued growth and excellence.

Information and Academic Technologies

IAT

On June 22, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Gottfredson announced his decision to consolidate UCI Information Technology (IT) organizations in non-academic areas.

Effective July 1, Administrative Computing Services (AdCom),  Network and Academic Computing Services (NACS), Office of Academic Affairs Computing Services (OAACS), and Office of Research IT are joining forces as a new organization, Information and Academic Technologies (IAT). The motivation and goals for consolidation are described in the report of the Academic Senior Managers “Big Ideas” IT Workgroup.

Effective integration of IT activities takes time and will be implemented incrementally over coming months. For the present, everything about contacting and working with AdCom, NACS, OAACS, and Office of Research IT remains the same. Please continue to work with your current contacts in these organizations and rely on the appropriate help-desks, as you have done in the past. Our goal is to minimize disruption from IT consolidation activities and we intend to maintain current project schedules and commitments.

With this issue, NACS News becomes IAT News, as part of the ongoing consolidation activity.  IAT news and the iat.uci.edu web sites will be important vehicles to keep you abreast of consolidation progress in the coming months.

NACS EG Staff Moving to MSTB (Building #415)

The NACS staff housed in Engineering Gateway are moving to the Multipurpose Science and Technology Building (MSTB).  Effective Monday, February 2nd, staff will be located on the second floor of the MSTB building, number 415 on the campus map.   The NACS Response Center will be located in MSTB 242.

All telephone numbers will remain the same, as will our ZotCode.  Our mailing address for intra-campus mail will be:

Network and Academic Computing Services
Individual’s name
ZotCode 2225

The NACS instructional computing labs and data center located in Engineering Gateway, and the NACS staff located in University Research Park, will remain in their current locations.

Restricted Web Sites

Faculty and staff often find it necessary to conduct research or other University business from off campus. NACS has been providing tools for this class of use for many years.

In particular, certain network resources (such as electronic journals licensed by the UCI Libraries) can only be accessed by authorized users, and that determination is based on whether the request for access comes from a computer on campus. So, the trick to getting to these resources from off campus is to appear to actually be on campus.

NACS has installed and configured a special server, the VPN (Virtual Private Network) which — once you have established your identity with your UCInetID and password — will take your network connection and make it appear to be a local UCI connection.

NACS provides a Web page which allows off-campus users to take advantage of the VPN server simply and conveniently, if the resource you wish to access is a Web site. Information on how to use the WebVPN can be found at http://www.nacs.uci.edu/security/vpn/webvpn.html

If the resource you need access to is not a Web site, NACS offers the Cisco VPN client, a program to download and run on your local computer which makes any or all of your Internet activity seem to originate from on campus. More information can be found at http://www.nacs.uci.edu/security/vpn/