Renewed Innovation: IT's Role in the Sustainability Efforts of Lourdes College

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Key Takeaways

  • A new strategic plan at Lourdes College includes a thorough evaluation of college operations to identify ways to use resources more efficiently and sustainably.
  • Initial technology efforts in support of the strategic plan focused on “greening” of the data center and network operations.
  • The green IT initiatives advanced the college’s environmental goals while yielding savings used to help sustain the college during tough economic times.
  • An added benefit was the renewal of innovation in using technology on campus, further promoting the college’s strategic plan.

Lourdes College is a small, private, coeducational commuter college located in northwest Ohio with the following mission:

“Lourdes College, rooted in Catholic and Franciscan traditions, provides a values-centered education that enriches lives and advances academic excellence through the integration of the liberal arts and professional studies.”

In early 2009, the Lourdes College Board of Trustees ratified a new strategic plan promoting institutional strength and sustainability over the next six years. The desired outcome was to make Lourdes College a stronger, more vibrant, even more socially responsible regional university by the year 2015. A critical component of the strategic plan is a thorough evaluation of all areas of college operations with the goal of identifying ways to use available resources more efficiently. Any budgetary savings would support the college during the current tough economic times.

To date, initial strategic efforts focused on sustainability have shown great promise, especially in the technology arena. This article describes how the IT department at Lourdes College used the strategic plan evaluation process to promote efficiency in its data center and network operations through virtualization and other “green” technology initiatives.

The IT Vision

In working toward institutional sustainability, the IT department began with a departmental strategic vision. We believe that the purpose of technology in higher education is to make educational processes more efficient. All technology resources for Lourdes College are procured with the goal of promoting collaborative, inquiry-based learning while streamlining the college’s administrative and operational functions.

A welcome result of technology efficiency has been savings in the most crucial resources — people, time, and money — needed to promote the higher education mission. These resources support research, development, and implementation of innovative programs and services for educating our 2,262 students (2,006 undergraduate and 256 graduate) and serving the local community.1 For the IT department, efficiency produced through technology use is a major catalyst for sustainability efforts on campus as well.


Success of any technology initiative depends on careful planning. In Lourdes College’s efforts to become more efficient in data center and network operations, the college IT department staff served as the technology planning committee. The committee, which I chaired, also solicited help from college technology users (students, faculty, and staff), IT consultants, IT colleagues at peer institutions, and technology business partners in planning and creating a more efficient technology infrastructure on campus.

As with all strategic endeavors at Lourdes College, in the IT plan students’ needs were the primary focus. Although sustainability was the objective of the college’s greening efforts, the administration believed it was important not to ignore students’ needs in the process. Success of the initiative would come when students embraced the potential changes in IT operations that would influence their educational experiences.

Planning consisted of three steps:

  1. Defining needs
  2. Developing an implementation plan (goal setting)
  3. Outlining an evaluation plan

First, the IT technology planning committee defined the college’s impending technology requirements in terms of educational needs and technology resources. The committee defined educational needs for technology as student learning opportunities and faculty research opportunities. Technology resources were defined as access to technology (computers, for example, and network connectivity including e-mail, Internet access, and network resources), technology professional development (faculty/staff skills using technology), and support (ensuring that the technology equipment and resources are available and working properly).

After defining the technology needs, we proceeded to set goals in the greening of the college’s data center and network infrastructure. Two issues were addressed:

  • First, we attempted to ensure that the goals would be measurable by establishing predefined benchmarks and indicators.
  • Second, goals had to be realistic given the resources and time available for the data center and network infrastructure projects.

Then the project planners on the technology planning committee outlined strategies and activities to help achieve the overall goals. These strategies and activities would be evaluated individually and as components of the main goals.

The planning process culminated in the development of the following goals for the greening of our data center and network operations:

  • Goal One: Standardize all network access and switching equipment.
  • Goal Two: Utilize green power and HVAC sources in the network data center.
  • Goal Three: Convert the Lourdes College data center to a virtual server environment.
  • Goal Four: Convert computers used in common areas to thin clients.
  • Goal Five: Replace the existing campus phone systems.

Note that we considered other green technology projects for implementation, but delayed them for four reasons:

  1. The college had limited personnel to dedicate to IT-related services. Of the 15 technology professionals on staff, four are part-time. Of the 11 full-time technology staff, two are responsible for network operations and four are dedicated to user support.
  2. Funding was a factor. Each year from 2006 to 2009, the IT operating budget has constituted a smaller proportion of the college’s operating budget, hitting 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2009.2 As a result, we needed to limit the scope of technology projects.
  3. The IT technology planning committee wanted to choose projects that would have the greatest effect on the college’s strategic goals. The projects needed to influence the educational experiences of as many students as possible.
  4. Time was important in deciding which IT projects would be part of our current sustainability efforts. The senior administration, the Lourdes College Technology Committee (created in 2006), and IT staff agreed that each goal should have measurable benefits within the first year after initial implementation. The consensus was that immediate, tangible benefits would provide the greatest promotion of sustainability under the current strategic plan.

With limited resources (personnel, funding, and time) available to support the 2,262 students and 226 employees, the administration had to limit the technology goals to those having the greatest influence on the college’s strategic goals.


Once planning had concluded, implementation of the technology sustainability plan began. Before equipment was purchased and services rendered, however, the IT staff had to address several issues to ensure optimal project success:

  • First, the staff had to ensure that the college community understood the purpose and desired outcomes of the proposed technology-related sustainability projects and initiatives. This included students, individuals directly involved in student learning (faculty and academic support staff), and staff indirectly involved in classroom instruction (student services, finance, etc.).
  • Second, the IT staff worked to gain agreement from individuals affected by the initiative that it was the best course of action for the organization.
  • Third, the IT staff believed that resource availability (funding, equipment, people, and professional development) both during the initial implementation and for future sustainability was essential to the success of any initiative, as was support from college leaders. Therefore, college leaders needed to ensure that the necessary resources were readily available to the IT staff throughout the project.
  • Finally, technical, administrative, and academic support had to be present and ongoing throughout our efforts to use technology in furthering sustainability efforts.

It is important to note that entities external to institutional operations can influence the success levels of campus technology initiatives. Parents, businesses, government agencies, and civic groups can all help or hinder the use of technology in higher education. College IT personnel must be able to identify these entities and learn how to work with them to achieve successful implementation of technology initiatives.

The solution to gaining consensus on the impending changes in IT operations was the Lourdes College Technology Committee. The 28-member committee represented a cross-section of the college community, including representatives of each academic school and administrative division on campus. IT kept the committee apprised of all pending changes to IT services available on campus. If concerns arose about impending projects, the issues were addressed before work began. The Technology Committee members also kept their constituent groups informed of changes taking place in IT operations, and they explained how those changes would influence their area(s) of responsibility. The committee ensured that all projects were completed in the best interest of the college community as a whole, and not just for specific entities on campus.

With preliminary implementation issues resolved, the Lourdes College IT staff began the process of working to complete the five goals for college sustainability through technology. A synopsis of these efforts follows.

Goal One: Standardize Network Access and Switching Equipment

Project Overview

The college planned to make sure all network electronic equipment used one predefined standard, IEEE 802.3af. As network equipment was scheduled for replacement, procurement of new equipment — including both wired and wireless — was based on that standard, with the college purchasing Cisco Systems Catalyst series network switches and Cisco Aironet Power over Ethernet (PoE) wireless products. The original cycle of network switch replacement was on an “as needed” basis, with infrastructure equipment (which includes network switches) replaced only when equipment died or additional capacity was needed.

Funding was a major issue in this project. A complete overhaul of the IT infrastructure would be very expensive. Although the projected six-year infrastructure budget would be sufficient for all needed upgrades, the length of time would make some equipment obsolete before the project was complete. The IT department resolved this issue by condensing our infrastructure replacement schedule from six years to two years. Funding for the project came from reprioritizing several IT capital projects. Less mission-critical projects were delayed in favor of upgrading the college’s existing IT infrastructure.


The green benefits of standardization were twofold:

  • First, standardization allows the college to install more energy-efficient equipment in the IT infrastructure. By consolidating network resources into updated high-capacity equipment, the IT department was able to decrease the power consumption of college network equipment by 38 percent. Table 1 illustrates the power consumption savings. In addition, the IT department was able to decrease the physical hardware used in the network infrastructure by 48 percent.
  • Second, the new technology allowed the college to utilize the IT network infrastructure for multiple mission-critical services (such as network connectivity, phone services, and security services). Prior to the upgrades, the campus network accommodated data transmissions only (and these transmissions were suspect in certain areas of campus). The infrastructure upgrades provided the capacity and reliability needed to accommodate multiple services.

Table 1. Network Switch Power Consumption

  Old Network Switches New Network Switches
Number of units 50 26
Power consumption per unit (in watts) 100 124
Total power consumption (in watts) 5,000 3,224
Number of ports per unit 24 48
Total ports 1,200 1,248
Power consumption per port (in watts) 4.17 2.58

Goal Two: Utilize Green Power and HVAC in the Data Center

Project Overview

In fall 2007, Lourdes College opened two new campus buildings, Delp Hall and McAlear Hall. The electrical and HVAC services installed in the buildings were designed to be environmentally friendly. For example, the HVAC is a geothermal system that utilizes water-based technology to heat and cool the buildings, with natural gas–powered generators for backup. The buildings won accolades for their innovative design.3 Figure 1 shows installation of geothermal wells during construction of Delp Hall and McAlear Hall and the completed buildings.

figure 1

Figure 1. Installation of Geothermal Wells for Delp Hall and McAlear Hall and Completed Buildings

As part of the original construction plan, Lourdes College relocated the main campus data center to McAlear Hall. Today, all central network equipment and resources are cooled using eco-friendly geothermal technology. Natural gas generators power backup IT systems. Relocation of the data center was an example of using existing resources to assist in making IT operations more sustainable on campus.


The two new buildings opened in October 2007. According to engineering analysis conducted on the new geothermal HVAC system, the new energy-efficient buildings would lower HVAC energy consumption by as much as 31 percent over systems with comparable heating and cooling capacity (see Table 2). Note that the initial investment in geothermal technology for the two buildings was more expensive than the other three options shown. However, the cost savings was expected to translate to a life cycle payback on investment of 39 months from the date the two facilities opened.4

Table 2. Estimated Annual Energy Use in Delp Hall and McAlear Hall*

  Standard Configuration** Geothermal Configuration
Combined floor area (square feet)+ 22,500 22,500
Building energy usage (BTU per square foot) 70,347 34,769
Max building cooling load (tons) 71 67
Annual cooling load (ton-hours) 50,793 30,414
Max building heating load (mbh) 907 676
Annual gas consumption (therms) 8,962 387
Annual electric consumption (in kWh) 201,175 217,879
Building utility cost (per square foot)++ $1.40 $0.97

* Information provided by JDRM Engineering, Toledo, OH, February 23, 2006

** Based on standard configuration of HVAC services found in existing buildings on campus

+ Based on area that will be heated and cooled by the HVAC system; actual combined building size is 38,000 square feet

++ Based on energy commodity cost in February 2006

Another result of the geothermal HVAC installed in the two new buildings was a significant decrease in natural gas consumption. This permitted transfer of the campus IT backup power solution to natural gas without incurring significant cost. In addition, the lower cost of natural gas compared to other backup power solutions (such as diesel and fuel oil) is expected to yield a faster return on investment than the alternatives.

Goal Three: Convert the Data Center to a Virtual Server Environment

Project Overview

Virtualization is a popular approach to green technology. Lourdes College has leveraged virtualization in the main data center to convert standard servers to virtual servers. Since the relocation of the main data center in December 2008, the college has converted the majority (32 of 41) of its conventional servers in the main data center to virtual servers. Many of these servers run mission-critical applications and services (such as e-mail, the college website, portal technology, and file storage).

The most pressing concern with completing this project was security. At their cores, the more popular virtualization solutions on the market are operating systems. This makes them inherently vulnerable to hacking and other cyber attacks (such as viruses, denial of service attacks, spybots, and rootkits). Due to its relative newness, virtualization technology has not been tested and strengthened against major cyber attacks in the same way as other network operating systems. The IT staff believe there is no such thing as a 100 percent secure network (traditional or virtual) — staff vigilance is the most effective means of maintaining the integrity of network services.

College officials took several steps to address the issue of security. First, a campus-wide IT security assessment was performed shortly after the virtualization project was completed. We contracted with network security professionals to assist in these efforts, and the college’s IT staff completed training in network security and ethical hacking. This training better prepared IT personnel to discourage, detect, and resolve issues that might occur in a traditional and virtual network environment. These efforts, along with upgrades to many of the appliances used in securing network operations, allowed the college to proceed with virtualization efforts with cautious optimism.


The college achieved several important green benefits from converting the main data center to virtual servers. An immediate benefit was a 60 percent decrease in physical space needed for data center equipment. Another was a tremendous decrease in power use in the data center. Based on data provided by the equipment manufacturers of current and former equipment, the decrease in power consumption is estimated at 41 percent (see Figure 1).

figure 2

Figure 2. Power Consumption in the Main Data Center Before and After Virtualization

Server virtualization did come with two major unanticipated issues. First, the college IT staff underestimated the time needed to convert traditional systems to a virtual environment. Although the majority of the servers were converted with few or no issues, some systems took considerable time to transition to the virtual environment. A second issue faced by the staff was support. Several software vendors used by the college did not support their applications in a virtual environment. The college had to evaluate each such application to determine if it could be sustained without vendor support. Those applications that could be supported locally were virtualized, while those that needed vendor support remained in the traditional server environment, including the management server for the campus phone system and the college’s imaging systems.

Goal Four: Convert Computers in Common Areas to Thin Clients

Project Overview

At Lourdes College, desktop computers are considered part of the network infrastructure. Therefore, the IT department implemented virtualization technology by replacing computers used in its common areas (the library, student center, etc.) with thin clients.

The college wanted to approach desktop virtualization in a manner that would not overburden existing resources. Thus, the desktop virtualization efforts started in areas with simple computing needs. In the aforementioned areas of campus, computing needs are limited resources that work well in virtual environments: Internet, e-mail, and productivity software. In addition, by completing this project between academic semesters, the IT staff minimized interruptions in technology services to the college community.


This virtualization effort saved 60 percent of the cost that the college dedicated to computers used in common areas on campus. Desktop virtualization also decreased energy usage from standard desktop computers by 76 percent in our pilot project with 30 computers (see Table 3). In addition, due to the flexibility built into the virtualization technology, the amount of technical support needed for these common areas has decreased significantly.

Table 3. Desktop Power Consumption

  Standard Desktop Virtual Desktop
Computer power (in watts) 255 10
Monitor power (in watts) 32 32
Number of computers 30 30
Computer power consumption 8,610 1,260
Server power requirements (in watts) 0 800
Power consumption per computer 287 68.7
Total power consumption 8,610 2,060

If feasible, the college plans to expand its virtual environment to other areas of campus in the future. The IT staff is considering expanding virtual desktops to other areas of campus, such as computer labs. However, due to the complexity of the computing needs in some of these areas and the limitations on current resources, we decided to research the feasibility of this expansion in the future.

Goal Five: Replace the Existing Phone Systems

Project Overview

For many, phone systems are not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about green IT initiatives. The longevity and costs associated with phone system installations make them inherently difficult to upgrade for efficiency purposes alone. However, Lourdes College IT staff viewed a needed replacement of the college’s phone system as an opportunity to promote energy-efficient technology while leveraging existing infrastructure.


The new phone system promoted sustainability in several ways. First, we selected a new phone system (Nortel CS1000E Communication Server 1000E CS1000E IP PBX) that used the existing IP-based network, thus eliminating the need to install new cabling and related infrastructure. Second, the new phone system was relocated to the new data center, enabling the college to take advantage of the existing energy-efficient power and cooling systems in that building. Third, based on analytics provided by the old and new phone system companies, the new phone system consumes an estimated 20 percent less power than the old one.


We defined objective evaluation plans for the Lourdes College IT-related sustainability efforts during the planning phase for each project. The evaluations needed to measure only the specific, predefined outcomes of each technology initiative. We did this in an effort to eliminate questions and confusion that might arise after the technology implementations reached the evaluation stage.

The IT staff wanted to emphasize two outcomes of evaluating technology initiatives:

  • First, we wanted to find ways to celebrate achievements, no matter how small, while making sure each celebration was reflective of the specific achievement’s magnitude. We believed doing this would promote interest and support for subsequent initiatives.
  • Second, we wanted to identify those elements in the technology initiative that might not be progressing to plan. We viewed these not as problems or failures but as “teachable moments” — opportunities to learn and grow in using technology effectively for the college’s long-term sustainability.

In less than three years Lourdes College has successfully completed the five IT-related sustainability initiatives described in this article and experienced several benefits as a result:

  • The college achieved significant savings in power consumption and usage, with estimates ranging as high as 40 percent savings in data center operations.
  • The IT department reduced the amount of physical equipment in the college’s data center through virtualization, which facilitated the consolidation of systems on fewer physical devices. As a result, more than 40 percent less space was needed for network equipment and fewer HVAC capabilities were needed to cool data center equipment.

The IT department continues to collect data to evaluate the results, although longitudinal data are still inconclusive for many of the initial projects. The college has seen significant progress in several areas of IT operations, however, with the most prevalent being in user experiences with IT resources on campus. Broadly speaking, the college can respond more rapidly to changing technology demands and take advantage of greater access to technology. Specifically, thanks to the dynamic nature of server and desktop virtualization technology, the IT staff can deploy customized resources that meet users’ needs quickly. The response time for server deployment shortened from a four- to six-week average to less than one day, and desktop deployment times decreased from a two- to four-week average to a matter of hours. Sustainability efforts through technology benefited the institution, but meeting the needs of campus technology users provided an even greater benefit.

Renewal of Innovation

Innovation is defined as (1) the introduction of something new, and (2) a new idea, method, or device.5 At Lourdes College, the IT-related sustainability initiatives led to renewed use of technology in innovative programs and services. Before, the prevailing attitude toward technology on campus was using it to complete course requirements or job responsibilities. Today, the campus attitude reflects more innovative uses of technology, which is now viewed as a way to improve the quality of the educational opportunities available on campus (and beyond). Two examples of this renewed innovation within the Lourdes College community follow.

Innovation in Learning Opportunities

Approximately four years ago, the college began investigating the possibility of providing online courses and resources for students. Before IT-related sustainability efforts were introduced, inadequate technology infrastructure stymied plans for such an initiative. Now, the IT department has the server and storage capacity to host the lecture-capture technology needed for college online learning initiatives. Today, one of every four courses offered at Lourdes College has an online/e-learning component.

Innovation in IT Staff Operations

Before we addressed the college’s strategic IT goals, the IT department was accustomed to a reactionary mode of operating, with a primary focus on keeping mission-critical technology functions operational and addressing IT support issues as they occurred. Now, with the new technology infrastructure, the time and resources needed to support IT operations has decreased. IT staff members can be more proactive in providing IT services and support on campus. The IT staff currently has time, albeit limited, to research and investigate emerging technologies that could further enhance the quality of education provided to Lourdes College students.


Sustainability efforts at Lourdes College involve all factions of the institution. In the college’s IT department, sustainability efforts focused on efficiency in providing the technology needed to promote the mission of the college. This focus on efficiency has led to resources savings in IT operations and to a renewal in the innovative use of technology by Lourdes College faculty staff and students. Recouped resource savings and renewed innovation enabled the creation of new, exciting educational programs and services for the college community. With this surge in innovation, Lourdes College will be able to do more than just sustain its place in the higher education community, meeting our strategic plan by becoming a strong, vibrant, regional university that will be a leader among small liberal arts colleges and universities in the region.

  1. As of August 31, 2009.
  2. Funding does not include the costs associated with building occupancy, facility environmental services (HVAC, cleaning, and preventative maintenance), and security.
  3. See, American School & University’s The Architectural Portfolio, 2008 Citation Winners and Featured Projects: Complete List of Honored Firms, Post-Secondary Citations, Outstanding Designs: Post-Secondary.
  4. Information provided by JDRM Engineering, Toledo, OH, February 23, 2006.
  5. Innovation, defined in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved August 26, 2009.