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Simplify, Standardize, Automate

As we transition into 2009, it's time to reflect on our goals for the coming year. I've spoken with many of you about particular projects that we are working on. But I believe all our projects are consistent with the general direction of:

  1. Simplify
  2. Standardize
  3. Automate

We are all aware that the University faces some important budget challenges this fiscal year, and as a result OIT is being asked to do "more with less." That's a phrase that turns up whenever an organization experiences a budget shortfall. Simply put: we don't have the resources to spend like we used to, but we are still expected to deliver on services to students, faculty, and staff. And every year, those services grow - just as the University continues to grow. So we've been asked to do "more with less."

I believe the effective way to do "more with less" is to focus on what we do best, and strive to do those things in the most efficient way possible. To do that, we need to simplify how we deliver those services. By simplifying a thing, we make it easier to support, even as it grows.

For example, I recently wrote about how web hosting reached 200 sites. We realized that important milestone - without stressing out the Linux team - because central web hosting is defined very simply: customers can choose between "Basic" (http only) or "Premium" (http or https) service, and can use html, PHP, or CGI to create their web pages.

Keeping things simple also makes it easy for us to standardize the service. For example: imagine if all our Oracle database servers all ran on __ servers, with __ memory, running operating system version __. Sure, we may "over-buy" on a few systems that support smaller databases - but when every server looks the same, the Solaris team spends less time debugging system configurations. So by sticking to those standards, we lower the total cost to maintain that service over the long term.

And for a simple service that has well-defined standards, it is easy to automate the administration of the service. Using the above example, if every Oracle database runs on the same hardware configuration, improving database performance becomes a matter of the System DBA's copying the same file to all database servers - which can be done through a script. That's less time to manage an individual service - leaving more time to work on other things.

My vision with simplify, standardize, automate is to allow us all to build bigger systems, and support more of them. And that is what will allow OIT to do "more with less."