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CIC Operations & Infrastructure

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), also known as the "Academic Big Ten", was established in 1958 as a consortium of twelve primarily Midwestern universities (the eleven members of the Big Ten Conference, plus University of Chicago.) We maintain strong relationships with the other CIC institutions, and often work with each other on very large projects and initiatives.

This week, I was at Northwestern University to attend the CIC Operations & Infrastructure (OaI) committee meeting. The OaI is comprised of IT directors and senior managers, and we meet every 6 months to review and discuss the state of IT at each of the Big Ten universities. Participating in something like the OaI is unique for higher education - you don't see this level of openness and sharing in "industry". At the OaI, we can talk honestly about our experiences with vendors, the initiatives we are working on, and the future growth of our IT areas.

Across the CIC, we see some common themes:

Virtualization
Almost every university in the OaI leverages virtual servers (VMWare, Solaris Zones, Mainframe VM, etc.) to some degree. Like us, most are seeing around 30-to-1 consolidation for light- to moderate-load servers such as file servers, or 8-to-1 for heavier loads. Using virtualization allows us to run more servers using less physical hardware, so we make better use of our data centers.

Realignment
This year, the economy faces some tough challenges. Budgets are difficult for every institution, so it is not surprising that everyone is going through a similar organizational realignment, like we have done inside OIT. Most institutions are also implementing a hiring freeze.

Storage
Every institution reports that storage is their largest growth area, especially as central IT now plays a larger role in supporting research. An additional struggle is how to provide backups that adequately protect that massive amount of data. While everyone uses a different particular solution, most rely on a virtual tape library and a backup architecture that is similar to ours at U of M.

Data centers
The three limiting factors in managing data centers are: space, power, cooling. This year, it seems that space has become a key issue that needs the most attention. Several institutions reported that they are expanding into other data centers - either by leasing new space, or building new. The U of M is reflected here in our Data Center Initiative to build a new data center, probably near St Paul Campus (but don't expect this until 2010 or later.)

The OaI meetings are also an opportunity for us to compare notes and gain additional perspective. One area that hit home was disaster recovery. Especially for those of us in OIT, we've been hit with some pretty big "mini-disasters" in recent years, the most memorable being the transformer fire on the first day of EFS go-live. But this pales in comparison to the disaster faced by University of Iowa during this year's flood. This video underscores the importance of DR preparedness and effective planning. We are fortunate not to have experienced a similar disaster at the U of M. At the same time, this provides contrast for us here at the U of M - we are the only university in the CIC to have established a dedicated DR team!