Information Technology at Baldwin Wallace University

Virtual Reality
University Business, December 2012
Baldwin Wallace University
Program Category: 
IT power players: Daniel Stilla, Craig Kitko, and Greg Flanik (left to right) implemented server virtualization, saving money and improving operations.

At 3,000 full-time day undergraduates, Baldwin Wallace University (Ohio) is what Greg Flanik, its chief information officer, considers “a midsized small school.” Yet one day he walked into the university’s data center and saw an astounding 75 servers humming along.

“We were talking about upgrading one system because we were running out of storage and needed more processing power and more memory,” he says. “I’m standing in the room and looking at all these other machines, and I said, ‘What are these things doing? This stuff is sitting here.’ It seems like every vendor wants their application to have its own system to run on. We said, ‘What an incredible waste. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get all these machines and consolidate them into a smaller footprint?’”

The solution Flanik envisioned was server virtualization—using excess server space to run multiple applications and systems, thereby greatly reducing the number of total servers needed. He floated the idea and ran into some skepticism, until a pilot program turned up impressive results.

“As we were going into our capital planning season, I called my team into the office and said, ‘Guys, we’re going to go all in on this,’” Flanik says. “And they gave me a look that said, ‘Are you for real?’”

Baldwin Wallace’s new, radically consolidated infrastructure, based on NetApp storage and VMware virtualization technology, now runs on a scant five physical servers. The consolidation occurred quickly, in about four months, and “wasn’t as hard as a lot of people made it out to be initially,” Flanik says.

Thanks to the leaner, more streamlined setup, data backup is much easier to perform, and disaster recovery is far simpler, since 87 percent fewer servers require restoration. The move reduced energy and licensing costs, says Flanik, and “added new levels of reliability, flexibility, and scalability to the university’s IT backbone, giving us the means to cost effectively deliver advanced IT services and stay competitive for years to come.”

Flanik explains that they gave the institution’s systems all the resources needed. “Instead of spending roughly $80,000 to upgrade 10 systems, we spent roughly $140,000 to upgrade all 75 systems to new hardware, reduced our licensing costs, and reduced our data center footprint,” he shares. For future upgrades, the team will be looking at just four or five systems.

In an era of doing more with less, the university’s project has been both a financial and operational success. Systems are performing better, and on the bottom line, Flanik notes, the project broke even in a single year. An additional 25 systems were added to the original 75 without any increase in hardware or licenses. Baldwin Wallace, he says, expects to realize a 194 percent return on its investment within three years.

“This system allowed us to shrink physically and save money yet still expand virtually going forward without that capital outlay,” Flanik says.