Enterprise Computing in Higher Education

Article excerpt

The growth of networking-originally conceived to support multi-user access to mainframe systems-has generated an increasing demand to integrate the computing resources in colleges and universities. Today this concept of integrated, campuswide computing may be referred to as "enterprise computing." It's a concept still not widely understood despite the many attempts to provide integrated networks for corporations, universities, governmental agencies and other large organizations.

A Vision to Plan By

Certain historical factors have impeded the development of true enterprise computing. Some are due more to a lack of management than to a lack of technology-for much of the equipment to implement widespread integration is currently available right off the shelf.

The failure of some educational institutions to use information technology well stems from the fact that information systems are not always part of an institution's strategic planning. This resulted in mainframe systems being planned for and controlled by one group of people, terminal-based networks by another, minis by a third and micros by a fourth. And when the modem local-area networks (LANs) started coming in the door, yet another group may have been formed.

In addition, most institutions were also slow to adopt campuswide standards for hardware and software, which compounded the problem. And sometimes, even when a willingness to plan for information systems existed, the technology was not quite ready.

Today, however, planning for enterprise computing is taking place-sometimes by default and sometimes by design--in many institutions.

The reasons why colleges and universities are (or should be) thinking strategically about computing and networking vary. For one thing, in this era of funding scarcity it is necessary to improve the stewardship of institutions of higher education in general. But most importantly, without planning and a vision of what networking can achieve for higher education, the institution may never be pointed in an appropriate direction. With rare exceptions, most institutions would be better off having consolidated, unified and integrated plans for implementing network technology.

Defining Enterprise Computing

In an effort to provide a comprehensive definition of enterprise computing, let's identify those issues that contribute to such a definition. Enterprise computing means at least the following:

* a strategic concern for the total computing needs of the organization;

* the ability to do distributed computing using distributed databases;

* the capacity for each computing entity on the network to communicate with any other entity as required by the organization;

* provisions to protect the integrity of information across the organization (security);

* adoption of internal and international standards;

* an integrated network management system capable of managing components from multiple vendors; and

* enhancements that improve people's capacity to use the system, possibly including:

- a common user interface (CUI);

- sufficient bandwidth to move multimedia information in a timely fashion;

- seamless" and "transparent" interactions among users of diverse computing hardware; and

- access to information internal to the organization and acquisition of relevant information that is available on external networks.

This characterization purposely omits the specific approaches to enterprise networking suggested by various vendors, who have predictable bias woven into their suggestions. Moreover, much of the essence of enterprise networking is tied up in network management, and the availability of these management resources is still sparse. According to James Herman the "industry has set its sights on open, multi-vendor networks and distributed computing, but missing in action so far are the enterprise management architectures that can integrate diverse and farflung network devices into a cohesive, controllable whole. …