Earlier today, I was reading an article by John Dix in the most recent issue of Network World. It was talking about how virtualization and basically ‘unified’ infrastructure is requiring people to re-think their IT organizational structure. Many of the current structures operate in silos and optimize their particular area for their particular area only, not necessarily what is best for the entire system. According to the article, Cisco approached this issue within their department and re-structed it into new areas consisting of architecture, design, implementation, and operations teams. Across these teams, they created ‘virtual’ service teams, such as networking, where members from the various other groups make up a networking team responsible for making sure networking is optimized for the overall system. Sounds great and it makes me think of how Angelo State University has been moving technology staff around to optimize operations.
As I see various posts come across the TEC-SIG list and read various articles about technology department structures, I cannot help but wonder how some of us smaller organizations get by. Currently, I’m the only technology department employee at my place of work, a rural pK-12 school district. I’m not an anomaly, at least not in West Texas. Prior to the beginning of the school year in 2008, my school district was a one-person show. The only assistance the technology director had was that of an elementary and a secondary teacher’s aide. The basic role of the aide was to oversee computer lab operations on their repective campuses. As time went on, that somewhat evolved into technology support for their respective campus(es). Other than that, the technology director was responsible for EVERYTHING. He was successful in the time leading up to the start of the 2008-2009 school year to be able to hire a second ‘district-level’ technology person. After some interviewing, I was offered the job as the Network Manager. My prior background had been that of infrastructure cabling, helpdesk for an ISP, network analyst, desktop support, server support on a small scale, programmer, and server operations. One of the great things about my background and working in the role that I soon acquired was that I was able to fill ‘MANY’ roles within a technology department. While not having deep knowledge in a ‘single’ particular area, I do have quite a bit of knowledge in many, many areas, wheather it was part of my job, or not.
In a school district of our size, there is typically one or two people, maybe even three, that make up the technology department. Several of the districts in our area extend their department by purchasing ‘credits’ from support vendors to handle some of the daily operations, long-term projects, etc. I randomly see some of the job postings looking for managers and operations personnel of servers, networking, VoIP, storage, backup, virtualization, etc. Where we’re at right now, especially in the school district for which I work, is that I fill every single one of those roles. Our second technology person, scheduled to start on January 3rd, will be responsible for all of the desktop operations, which includes end-user support, anti-virus, printing, desktop publishing, application support, content filtering, and desktop virtualization. I will still maintain all of the infrastructure operations, which includes storage, networking, server, and virtualization. I also maintain various reports and other paperwork, including e-rate and everything that goes with it.
Our current infrastructure includes 624 desktop/laptop units, 14 physical servers, 10 virtual servers, 2 storage arrays, 28 physical switches, and 30 enterprise wireless access points. He have roughly 11TB of storage connected to our servers, with plans to expand that for video storage, shared hosting, and our VDI deployment. We’ll continue to virtualize more of our physical servers as we have time and it makes sense. We’ve started deploying virtual desktops that will eventually cover all of our students and take the place of the physical units. The aging desktops will be turned into diskless workstations until they are replaced with thin clients. We’ve deployed a VoIP system, running sipXecs that not only replaced our phone system, but also replaced our broken PA/Intercom and bell systems. Replacing the PA/Intercom system means that we gave EVERY teacher an IP phone (total phone install consists of ~100 units). Our upcoming project list contains digital signage, video streaming of events in our new Special Events Center, security cameras, and distance learning for homebound, extended away, homeschooled, etc students via BigBlueButton.
Thinking of smaller technology departments, it would seem that we don’t suffer from the separate silos. With fewer people, each person is required to take on more responsibility. While our infrastructure may not be near the size of these larger organizations, we still need to operate efficiently and optimize each area for the overall system. Us smaller departments may suffer from a lack of in-depth knowledge about particular areas, and that’s probably our biggest area for improvement. At my place of work, we’re running private cloud services consisting of storage, compute, and networking, with one of the goals being the ability to provide some of our resources to other school districts. With several districts in our area having only one technology person, the hope is to provide them with resources that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to use. This also reduces the amount of infrastructure that person has to maintain.