Page 16 - Campus Technology, May/June 2019
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IT Management dian schaffhauser
Streamlining IT Operations (and More) with Data
These two institutions are learning how to use data to reduce the manual effort required in all kinds of activities — from expediting help requests to counting actual software usage to improving student communications.
WHILE A lot of attention on the use of data is being directed at improving the learning experience, colleges and universities have long known that it can help with IT operations too. Now data analytics is playing a role in those activities to expedite troubleshooting, justify IT investments and make for more seamless workflows.
At Clemson University (SC), for example, while the IT organization had some level of visibility into network operations (after all, monitoring tools have been around since the 1980s), when problems would surface, the institution’s networking, IT operations and storage teams would have to expend a lot of manual effort sorting out what was causing the issue or the outage.
According to Nitin Madhok, director of Busi- ness Intelligence & Advanced Data Analytics at Clemson, a more sophisticated approach to the use of data is helping IT improve the mean time to fix or recover, “which means happier stu- dents, happier staff and happier executives.”
Splunk, one tool at the heart of the effort, has been in use for a while at Clemson. The basic idea behind the software is to collect, index and correlate data in real time into a searchable repository, from which users can obtain alerts, reports and dashboards. Clem- son’s networking administrators have long
used the program for capturing logs of data from switches and routers; operations moni- tors performance with it; and security grabs information on audit activity and authentica- tion, among other applications.
What’s changed, however, is that rather than simply setting up Splunk to notify IT when something “concerning occurs,” now Madhok and his analytics team are finding ways to be more proactive in their use of the tool.
When maintenance needs to take place on identity management/authentication infra- structure or some other key system, IT can select a time that’s least disruptive to users, “based on data from what times people are logging in and when they’re more active [or] less active — and that changes across semes- ters,” he explained. While one might guess that Friday night would be a good window for tackling those kinds of projects, “there are certain departments, courses [and] colleges that also schedule assignment deadlines for Friday nights. So, we have to factor those things in and look at the data that’s going into Splunk and come up with the time [when] we can actually do the maintenance.”
The use of data analytics is also speeding up issue resolution for the support center. Previ- ously, the center lacked a “lot of visibility” into IT operations, said Madhok. Members of that

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