A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Investing in Future Technology Needs

April 28, 2014

It has been 12 weeks since I joined UC Merced as your chief information officer, and while I recognize there is much to do and there are many problems to solve, I am grateful for the patience, partnership and positive outlook expressed by faculty and staff members and students.

At UC Merced, we are fortunate to have talented and committed IT staff members. The people comprising the IT organization have been enormously helpful in orienting me to opportunities and challenges, and in sharing their problem-solving talents.

In addition to the IT staff, the network is one of our most strategic IT assets. Unlike buildings and facilities, it is less visible and its physical properties less apparent. But the network does consist of things you can touch and feel, that need care and support. It includes more than 1,500 individual pieces of equipment such as wireless access points, routers, switches and a variety of devices used to manage, maintain and secure the users and data that traverse the network.

The ubiquity of cloud computing — the ability to locate data and run software application from remote locations — and big data, so defined by its size, the speed at which it must be accessed and the variety of type, has placed critical importance on the network as key technology for moving information from point A to point B. 

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for people to carry two or three devices at a time that connect to the network.

All this means we need a network well designed for increasing demands, one that allows IT staff members to carefully and dynamically manage it as a resource according to shifting usage patterns.  

The campus network is an asset in which we need to continually invest.

As with most things, throwing money at the problem is not the sole solution. We do have insufficient coverage and need more wireless access points. However, in adding more access points, we also need to be mindful of adding newer technology to an infrastructure built on older technology standards. Doing so complicates our ability to manage all technology standards in a seamless fashion.

Given the rate of technological change, this is unavoidable. Yet it underscores that our approach to making technology investments should be based on informed understanding of current technology standards as defined and delivered by technology vendors and product manufacturers. 

Basically, we have to assume constant change and build an IT organization and the institutional processes that allow us to manage change though continuous improvement rather than lurching from breakdown to breakdown.

The network’s current value, based on the cost to replace each piece with a comparable device, is approximately $9 million. However, approximately 40 percent of our network devices are end-of-life (EOL).

Specifically, this means the vendors will no longer agree to support the hardware should components fail, nor will they provide upgraded software to run the devices or provide ongoing updates for security and other version upgrades.

Replacing all the current EOL network gear will cost more than $3 million. While it would seem prudent to rush out to replace equipment that is EOL — or equipment that no longer meets current technology performance standards — we would risk throwing good money after bad.

Instead, I have asked the network team to imagine a next-generation network — one that puts us on par with our sister UC campuses, that serves our researchers with high-performance data transfer and allows our students to download and stream content just as they might do at their homes.

Technology is no longer a trend. We all have to interact with it daily.

My goal is for IT staff members to provide the campus community with services and resources that help ease some of the pain when technology bites back.

Over the next few months, I will continue to discuss the challenges we face, ask for your input on how to best prioritize in the face of unbounded demand and share some of our achievements toward taming technology.