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Business management

Jeff Perry, University of Kansas
Jeff Perry , deputy technology officer, University of Kansas

The University of Kansas faced a challenge familiar to many organizations: an explosion of stored data. But at the university, that exponential growth was happening independently in dozens of separate facilities managed by separate departments in the tradition of academic fiefdoms. The result was wasteful spending on both the storage itself and support costs like maintenance and cooling, an inability to integrate data where useful, and a failure to handle compliance or security requirements in a consistent way. Worse, faculty and staff members are mobile workers, doing their job at multiple locations on, off, and between campuses, yet the decentralized data storage reality did not facilitate connectivity to their data when outside of the office.

The answer was to replace that morass of storage islands with a subscription-based, multitiered storage solution. Then the program director for enterprise infrastructure and operations, Perry was charged with not only creating the service, called CFS (Central File Storage), but selling it to those fiefdoms. "Centralization of anything at a university can cause a sense of fear of loss of control caused by a lack of trust," notes CIO Bob Lim.

In other words, it was a business management challenge at least as much as it was a technology one.

Perry stepped out into the various departments and personally secured buy-in from multiple stakeholders, and he spoke at town hall meetings to introduce the idea and gather feedback. "It may be cheaper to buy a hard drive at Best Buy, but that doesn't provide you with backup, oversight, or data security. Jeff did a great job explaining the actual short-term and long-term costs of decentralized data storage and the significant value of the CFS solution," says information resource specialist Brett Gerstenberger.

Perry also marketed the idea that the Central File Storage service required no change in behavior for users. "We focused our efforts on fixing the economic problem, fixing the access and data security problems, and fixing the other problems without forcing customers to change processes or learn new technologies. This makes it so teachers can teach, researchers can research, and data managers can manage data," Perry says.

The result: CFS was up and running in less than a year, despite the cultural change required to get it first accepted, then actually used.

CFS has been fully operational for nine months, and the majority of campus now uses it, exceeding 23TB of data. Gerstenberger notes, "Since implementation, I've heard from users who are so relieved to not have to worry about backups and day-to-day maintenance. For many departments, the cost savings have already been huge." And users can now share information, regardless of their department, which has greatly increased opportunities for collaborative work and provided additional mobility, he says.

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