How to cut network expenses

Five IT execs share their strategies

Trimming network redundancy at the University of Connecticut's School of Business was certainly not COO Michael Vertefeuille's first choice to save money. However, as the college faces a 10% budget shortfall this year, falling on the heels of last year's 5% cutback, he's had to dig deep.

"We already have data center consolidation and virtualization projects underway, but this budget deficit is more severe than that and we needed to do more," says Vertefeuille, who is based in Storrs, Conn.

This has meant going over his network architecture with a fine-tooth comb and making the difficult decision to cut the redundancy -- and the ability to immediately come back quickly after a disaster or outage -- from his multi-link infrastructure. "The service contracts on our routers are astronomical -- especially when we already paid a premium for carrier-grade Nortel 8600s," he says.

The school is now relying solely on its primary routers, which feature built-in redundancy and have a four-hour parts replacements contract. "We know we're moving back to a single point of failure, but the cost savings are worth it. The assessment shows that since it would take a catastrophic failure to keep those routers down, we don't feel we're putting ourselves in jeopardy. It's a risk tolerance we have to take," he says.

Vertefeuille and his public-sector peers, who even in a good year have to make tough budget calls, are not alone in having to weigh these drastic trade-offs, according to Jim Frey, research manager at IT consultancy Enterprise Management Associates. As the economy tightens its grip on IT budgets, public and private sector IT teams alike are being forced to consider cost-cutting strategies that would otherwise have been verboten.

IDC predicted in February that year-over-year growth in IT spending this year will only reach 0.1%, down from the November 2008 forecast of 0.9%. Translated into IT budgets, this means IT teams have to come up with the money for new projects with a bent toward the creative.

"There is definitely a trend toward non-traditional thinking right now. People are scrambling to figure out how to fund projects for the next six months to a year, rather than farther out," Frey says.

Buying IT gear on eBay

While Vertefeuille tussles with his architecture to eke out those funds, Charleston Southern University CIO Rusty Bruns turns to eBay to drum up equipment savings.

"I don't have an enormous budget on a regular day -- only $2 million -- and most of that is spent on maintenance costs. So in this economy, I have to do even more to save money where I can," he says.

Bruns has bought everything from Packeteer packet shapers, which enable him to apply policies to optimize network traffic flows, to digital phones from the online auction house -- and the payback has been tremendous. He bought his first packet shaper brand-new from Packeteer for $13,500. "A few months later I needed another one, so I went online and got it from eBay for $2,500," he says.

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