< Back to Main Site

EDUCAUSE review onlineEDUCAUSE review online

A New Day Is Dawning

0 Comments

Homepage

© 2009 Richard N. Katz. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 44, no. 3 (May/June 2009): 64

Richard N. Katz (rkatz@educause.edu) is Vice President of EDUCAUSE and Director of the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR).

Comments on this article can be posted to the web via the link at the bottom of this page.

A wonderful speaker recently told the apocryphal tale of colleges and universities in the "olden days." In the days that predated the electrical grid, colleges and universities generated their own electricity. The leaders of this work were important people-in fact, they were the deans of electricity! The deans of electricity worried about a vast infrastructure of hardware: generators, capacitors, resistors. They oversaw a distribution system of power lines and underground cables. They squabbled over standards, and they established governance. Being a dean was tough. The job required a great deal of technical knowledge, and service was both mission-critical and erratic. But since the electricity dean often performed heroic feats, nearly everyone admired the dean.

As time went on, electrical power became widespread-even commonplace. The socialization of standards and the improvements in hardware made service increasingly reliable. In fact, service became so reliable that outages were almost the only time the campus community thought about the dean of electricity. Soon, colleges and universities no longer needed to produce their own electricity and were able to tap into electrical grids operated by a faceless cadre of suppliers somewhere off-campus. The deans of electricity retired and were replaced by directors of facilities.

The shift from producer of electricity to director of facilities was profound. Whereas the deans of electricity were engineers, technical wizards, and tinkerers, the new facilities directors needed to understand economics. They needed to understand energy markets and risk management, and they needed to develop a portfolio of relationships that would ensure a steady supply of clean power at rates the campus could afford. They needed to understand a tangle of laws and regulations. They needed to understand the academic mission and what parts of the campus-such as the hospital or the particle accelerator-had specialized energy needs, so that they could manage the power supply to meet peak demands and provide redundancy and emergency backup. Electricity remained more critical to the campus than ever; it just became less exotic.

Is it now time for those of us who manage higher education's IT infrastructure to experience a similar shift? Have we arrived at the time when it is no longer our task to produce and deploy computing cycles, data stores, help desks, perimeter defenses, backup and recovery sites, or enterprise systems? Not likely. But can we imagine that there may come such a time? Should we envision and plan for a new land of milk and honey?

Yes, and soon. Our computing is almost good enough. Our standards are almost widespread enough. Our networks are almost robust enough, fast enough, and ubiquitous enough. The consumer IT marketplace is compelling enough. We are learning to virtualize. Do we dare look up from the cab of our locomotive to see the jet planes flying overhead? Utility computing is coming fast-and with it related concepts and practices like SaaS and cloud computing. Hyped? Of course. Passing trend? Likely not. Managing an infrastructure that is operated somewhere else, by someone else, is not an act of faith. It is simply a different kind of management, with a set of issues different from those we have perfected over the past sixty years.

Like the deans of electricity, we will facilitate connections to the global grid. We will manage standards, and we will translate academic needs into specifications. We will keep assets safe by managing the institution's place in a diverse and increasingly global ecosystem. And none of this will be easy. But unlike the deans of electricity, we will not necessarily be diminished. As our attention shifts away from producing computing power, we must become adept at helping others use this power to accomplish the purposes of the higher education institution while assuring them that their rights in cyberspace will be honored and protected. More than ever, we will need to understand those purposes and speak the language of learning and discovery, so that we and our institutions will not be lost in the clouds. It's the dawn of a new day.

Most Popular

Stay Up-to-Date

RSS Email Twitter

Share Your Work and Ideas

Issues coming up will focus on designing the future of higher ed, digital engagement, and new business models. Share your work and ideas with EDUCAUSE Review Online.

E-mail us >

Purchase

EDUCAUSE Members: $5.00
Non-Members: $5.00
Close
Close


Annual Conference
September 29–October 2
Register Now!

Events for all Levels and Interests

Whether you're looking for a conference to attend face-to-face to connect with peers, or for an online event for team professional development, see what's upcoming.

Close

Digital Badges
Member recognition effort
Earn yours >

Career Center


Leadership and Management Programs

EDUCAUSE Institute
Project Management

 

 

Jump Start Your Career Growth

Explore EDUCAUSE professional development opportunities that match your career aspirations and desired level of time investment through our interactive online guide.

 

Close
EDUCAUSE organizes its efforts around three IT Focus Areas

 

 

Join These Programs If Your Focus Is

Close

Get on the Higher Ed IT Map

Employees of EDUCAUSE member institutions and organizations are invited to create individual profiles.
 

 

Close

2014 Strategic Priorities

  • Building the Profession
  • IT as a Game Changer
  • Foundations


Learn More >

Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good™

EDUCAUSE is the foremost community of higher education IT leaders and professionals.