When I left the UK to move to Australia, we'd already had a few years of significant pressure on public sector budgets, and education had taken the hit alongside other sectors. At the time, there was a lot of talk about 'back office functions' as opposed to 'frontline services', and in many cases that meant that the budget cuts were made in areas where there was little direct interaction with the service user. In education, that meant less impact on teaching, and consequently greater impact on 'administration' – including IT services. I felt I learnt a lot, alongside our customers, about the ways that ICT services could be delivered for a lower cost, and also the ways that ICT could help lower the cost of other parts of service delivery. We're now facing a very similar set scenario in Australia – pressure on public sector budgets, and a focus on cutting spending on 'back office' services. And so some of the case studies and experiences from other countries will have relevance here. Here's one example from the Microsoft case studies library, published on Monday:

Coventry University reduces annual IT spend by $1.5m

As part of the university’s strategic plan, the IT team needed to reduce annual IT expenditure by £1 million, while at the same time creating a more flexible and scalable environment. A previous foray into virtualisation had proved to be expensive, with the team finding it a challenge to make the most of the technology. After comparing several solutions, it chose to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter because the licensing model immediately saved the university £129,000. The IT team is now using Hyper-V technology to virtualise as many virtual machines onto one server as it needs, without requiring licences for each virtual machine. The team has also reduced staffing needs by one full-time staff member through the consolidation of platforms. With the new environment, the university saves £1 million of its allocated budget.

Several years ago, the university’s IT team purchased VMware licences and technology, with the goal of reducing server sprawl and centralising IT management. Stephen Booth, Head of Central Computing Services, Coventry University, says:

  We’d looked at virtualisation to improve control over the network and save money through optimising our existing investments. But our VMware distribution was small scale and piecemeal, and we never fully used the technology because of the high direct costs of licensing it, coupled with minimal use of the extended feature capabilities of the product.  

But, in 2010, the university moved quickly forward with its strategic plan to improve university services. As part of this, the executive management team requested that the IT department make savings of £1 million across the campus. As Stephen said:

  The corporate plan was clear about the IT team’s role in making savings as well as enhancing services through centralisation—we had a specific target to work towards. We revisited virtualisation and cloud technologies because in just a few years they’d changed a lot, and there were different options available to us.  

That's a nightmare isn't it – a clear expectation that it will be possible to cut costs and deliver more services. But it's typical of the mindset of the "spend less, do more" mindset that occurs around IT in a spending squeeze. And the route forward wasn't easy:

  Although we were initially a bit sceptical about Hyper-V, we played around with it to get the best configuration for our needs. We started to think it was a good fit for us in terms of features and a more cost-effective solution for our environment than VMware.  

The benefits for the university

In addition to the savings of £1/$1.5 million in a year, the IT team have managed to improve their service delivery, by:

  • reducing downtime – with failover clustering to allow for hardware problems
  • improving server provisioning times - from three months to just one day to get a new server running
  • reducing research costs  - by embracing cloud provision of services for researchers
  • reducing the university's carbon footprint – reducing power and cooling costs by $40,000 a year, and reducing carbon emissions by 20%

Learn MoreRead the full case study on Coventry University


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