Leveraging Existing IT Assets: A Fiscal Fitness Plan

The recession is officially over. At least that is what the economists say. But that doesn’t mean IT budgets suddenly will open up.

According to a recent report by Giga Information Group, “The great majority of enterprises are and will be focusing on leveraging their existing IT assets more effectively in 2002.”

So for now, it remains a case of making do with what you have, while figuring out inexpensive ways to extend the life, performance and functionality of existing resources. To help out, here is a four step fitness plan to economically boost your system’s health.

Slim Down

Some companies are finding they can trim costs by slimming down. By using thin-client applications they can simplify software deployment and management, eliminate bandwidth upgrades and gain added life out of workstations. And, when it does come time to replace client hardware, they can do so using solid-state thin-client terminals instead of PCs, thereby reducing capital outlay and maintenance costs.

When using a thin-client application, all processing takes place on the server. All that travels over the network are keyboard/mouse inputs from the client to the server which then sends a screen image back to the client. Users gain fast access to enterprise applications even over slow dial-up connections.

The State of California’s Department of General Services (DGS), for example, used thin- client technology to reduce office space. Two thousand employees now telecommute.

“We weren’t set up to go into homes to configure workstations or deploy software,” says Jamie Mangrum DGS Operations Manager for Enterprises in Sacramento, Calif. “You can’t force employees to do things like that.”

DGS installed Microsoft Windows Terminal Services and Metaframe software by Citrix Systems, Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Metaframe is installed on each application server, translating communications between servers and clients. Telecommuters access a DGS interface on their home computers.

“This approach enables us to do more with the same staff,” says Mangrum.

Technology by Tarantella, Inc., based in Santa Cruz, Calif., takes a different approach. Rather than sitting on application servers, its Enterprise 3 software resides on a Linux or UNIX box between the users and the servers. It takes the data from servers or mainframe and coverts it into a web document which it relays to the user. Clients access programs via web browser.

Detroit-based DTE Energy used Enterprise 3 to simplify system integration after acquiring a gas company. “As we migrate them to the DTE site, they use Tarantella to access corporate applications,” says John Townsend, Manager of Network Operations, “so we didn’t have to move the applications over.”

Non-Stop Workout

For enterprises looking for high-powered number crunching capabilities, distributed computing offers supercomputing power using existing desktops and servers. The concept is simple — take advantage of available processing power. Except for occasional short bursts of activity, desktop CPUs run at fraction of capacity. On nights and weekends, particularly, they do nothing at all.

To get an idea of how much of your computing power lays unused, Grid computing firm Entropia has an online calculator. Type in how many computers you have with what processors and it calculates underutilized capacity. For instance, 1,000 1GHz processors is the equivalent of 88 Silicon Graphics 16-way Origin 2000 servers.

Distributed or Grid computing captures all these unused processor cycles and puts them to good use. The most well-known example is the SETI@Home project, which uses the combined power of home computers to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. The project averages 33 Teraflops/second of processing, nearly three times the speed of the world’s fastest supercomputer, IBM’s ASCI White.