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Best practices in hardware and software implementation

University Business, December 2013
Brian Slavinskas, Director of Special Projects, Loyola University
Brian Slavinskas, Director of Special Projects, Loyola University

When as much as 80 percent of Loyola University's documents were in hard copy form, missing paperwork, unnecessary duplication, clutter and the never-ending need for more storage only made peoples' jobs inefficient and time consuming. Brian Slavinskas, director of special projects, knew there had to be a better way.


Charged with finding a document management solution, Slavinskas' team interviewed core departments in the Chicago school to learn their wants and needs before presenting its findings to an executive committee. The path was clear: Loyola would go paperless.


Once the project was approved, Loyola issued a request for information to 15 vendors that spelled out 30 key features it wanted, including workflow development, customization, hosting, and security management. Based on the responses, the university narrowed the field to four finalists who were given a 42-page request for proposal with 225 questions. Each vendor was then evaluated based on higher education experience, core system and infrastructure integration and regulatory attentiveness. “Being so specific about our needs really helped select the vendor that could best meet them,” says Slavinskas.


The "best practice" approach applies to all situations. When Greg Flanik, CIO of Baldwin Wallace University, was tasked with implementing virtual servers at the Ohio school, he too began with a "fact-finding" mission. He discovered that the university had 75 physical servers, but that none were working at peak efficiency. Vendors had specified hardware for their applications that was far beyond what was really needed, so “some machines were operating at between 10 percent and 30 percent effectiveness,” he says.


The best way to consolidate everything into a single system, he thought, would be to move to virtual servers. Flanik took a slightly different approach than Slavinskas to his vendor search. He began gathering information by talking with the big players in the server industry and reading any white papers that were available. Based on that guidance, Flanik then created a roadmap for a large-scale conversion to virtual servers.


When Flanik sent out an RFP, the proposals the university received from vendors included technology specifications that were well beyond what the school needed, so they decided to implement in-house using NetApp and VMware. The consolidation resulted in 87 percent fewer servers and a “drastic” reduction in license fees and utility costs. The project paid for itself in the first year and will generate $814,000 in savings over the first three years.


Although both schools had different needs, the process for reaching their end goal was strikingly similar: identify needs, get executive-level support, gather information and develop a plan.


Where the two diverged was in implementation. Baldwin Wallace’s install required little analysis prior to reaching a decision. Then, converting all of its servers took just four months. Loyola’s implementation, on the other hand, took multiple years. The lengthy rollout was a result of varying degrees of departmental knowledge and readiness. “Departments that had never used any kind of content management system needed to be trained in imaging,” Slavinskas says, “while others with more familiarity started using more features from the outset.”


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