The Blue Sky Project
Here is the case study:
The Blue Sky Project
Garth Hudson was a 29-year-old graduate of Eastern State University (ESU) with a B.S.
degree in management information systems. After graduation he worked for seven years
at Bluegrass Systems in Louisville, Kentucky. While at ESU he worked part time for an
oceanography professor, Ahmet Green, creating a customized database for a research
project he was conducting. Green was recently appointed director of Eastern
Oceanography Institute (EOI), and Hudson was confident that this prior experience was
instrumental in his getting the job as information services (IS) director at the Institute.
Although he took a significant pay cut, he jumped at the opportunity to return to his
alma mater. His job at Bluegrass Systems had been very demanding. The long hours and
extensive traveling had created tension in his marriage. He was looking forward to a
normal job with reasonable hours. Besides, Jenna, his wife, would be busy Page
368pursuing her MBA at Eastern State University. While at Bluegrass, Hudson worked
on a wide range of IS projects. He was confident that he had the requisite technical
expertise to excel at his new job.
Eastern Oceanography Institute was an independently funded research facility aligned
with Eastern State University. Approximately 50 full- and part-time staff worked at the
Institute. They worked on research grants funded by the National Science Foundation
(NSF) and the United Nations (UN), as well as research financed by private industry.
There were typically 7 to 9 major research projects under way at any one time as well as
20 to 25 smaller projects. One-third of the Institute’s scientists had part-time teaching
assignments at ESU and used the Institute to conduct their own basic research.
FIRST YEAR AT EOI
Hudson made a point of introducing himself to the various groups of people upon his
arrival at the Institute. Still, his contact with the staff had been limited. He spent most of
his time becoming familiar with EOI’s information system, training his staff, responding
to unexpected problems, and working on various projects. Hudson suffered from food
allergies and refrained from informal staff lunches at nearby restaurants. He stopped
regularly attending the biweekly staff meetings in order to devote more time to his work.
He now only attended the meetings when there was a specific agenda item regarding his
The IS staff at EOI consisted of two full-time assistants, Tom Jackson and Grant Hill.
They were supported by five part-time student assistants from the computer science
department. Grant Hill was assigned full-time to a large five-year NSF grant aimed at
creating a virtual library of oceanographic research. Hill worked out of the project
leader’s office and had very little interaction with Hudson or Jackson. Hudson’s
relationship with Jackson was awkward from the start. He found out, after the fact, that
Jackson thought he would get the job as director. They never talked about it, but he
sensed tension the first couple of months on the job. One of the problems was that he
and Jackson were totally different personalities. Jackson was gregarious and very
talkative. He had a habit of after lunch walking around the Institute talking to different
scientists and researchers. Often this would lead to useful information. Hudson, on the
other hand, preferred to stay in his office working on various assignments and ventured
out only when called upon. While Hudson felt Jackson was not on top of the latest
developments as he was, he respected Jackson’s work.
Last month the system was corrupted by a virus introduced over the Internet. Hudson
devoted an entire weekend to restoring the system to operation. A recurring headache
was one of the servers, code-named “Poncho,” that would occasionally shut down for no
apparent reason. Instead of replacing it, he decided to nurse Poncho along until it could
be replaced. His work was frequently interrupted by frantic calls from staff researchers
who needed immediate help on a variety of computer-related problems. He was shocked
at how computer illiterate some of the researchers were and how he had to guide them
through some of the basics of e-mail management and database configuration. He did
find time to help Assistant Professor Amanda Johnson on a project. Johnson was the
only researcher to respond to Hudson’s e-mail announcing that the IS staff was available
to help on projects. Hudson created a virtual project office on the Internet so that
Johnson could collaborate with colleagues from institutes in Italy and Thailand on a UN
research grant. He looked forward to the day when he could spend more time on fun
projects like that.
THE BLUE SKY CONVERSION PROJECT
The “Blue Sky” conversion project began in earnest four months ago. Ahmet Green
returned from Washington, D.C., with grim news. The economic downturn was going to
lead to a dramatic reduction in funding. He anticipated as much as a 25 percent
reduction in annual budget over the next three to five years. This would lead to staff
reductions and cutting operating costs. One cost-cutting measure was moving IT
operations to the “cloud.” Green had first proposed the idea to Hudson after attending a
meeting with several directors of other institutes who faced similar financial challenges.
The basic strategy was to move all of the Institute’s databases, software, and even
hardware to a “private cloud.” Staff would use their current PCs to simply access more
powerful machines over the Internet. These powerful machines could be partitioned and
configured differently as per the needs of research staff, giving each staff their own
virtual machine (VM). Staff could also access, use, and share virtual servers over the
Internet as needed. Hudson worked with the Institute’s accountant on a cost/benefit
analysis. From their standpoint it made perfect sense. First, the Institute would not have
to replace or upgrade aging computers and servers. Second, the Institute would enjoy
significant IT savings since they would pay for only IT resources actually used. They
would not have to make any major IT capital expenditures. Third, cloud computing
would provide scientists greater flexibility by accessing desired resources or software
from anywhere at any time. And finally, once the system was up and running, the
Institute would no longer need the services of at least one full-time IT worker. Green
decided to name the project “Blue Sky” to put a positive spin on the conversion.
At first the associate directors balked at the idea. Some had a hard time conceptualizing
what cloud computing meant. Others were worried about security and reliability. In the
end they reluctantly signed off on the project when given alternative cost-cutting
initiatives. Hudson assured them that cloud computing was the wave of the future and
setting up or accessing virtual machines on the “cloud” was as simple as setting up or
accessing their g-mail account.
The conversion project would be completed in stages. The first stage was selecting a
provider. The next stage was migrating non–mission critical information to the cloud.
The next stages would entail migrating each of the six big grant projects in waves to the
cloud. The final stage would focus on the remaining smaller projects. Training would be
an integral part of each stage. The Institute would maintain a back-up for all the data
until 6 months after complete conversion. After that the cloud service provider would be
responsible for backing up the data.
At first Jackson was excited about the project. He was savvy enough to realize that this
was the future of computing and he was intrigued with how the whole system would
work. His feelings soon changed when he started thinking about the potential
ramifications for his job. He asked Hudson more than once what the department would
look like after the conversion. Hudson replied vaguely that they would figure it out once
the system was up and running.
A task force was formed, headed by Hudson, to select a cloud service provider. Hudson
was surprised by how many choices there were. Plans and cost structures varied
considerably. After much deliberation the committee narrowed the choices to three. The
first two were among the bigger providers in the industry, VMWARE and Microsoft. The
third choice was a relatively new company, OpenRange, which offered a cheaper
solution. Jackson argued that even though the bigger providers would cost more, they
were a much safer bet. Hudson responded that he had confidence in OpenRange and
cutting costs was the primary goal behind the project. In the end, Hudson Page
370persuaded the committee to choose OpenRange. Not only would cost be significantly
cheaper, but OpenRange would help in the training of the personnel. Hudson liked this
idea; training was not his strength, and he wasn’t looking forward to holding senior
scientists’ hands through the process.
It took Hudson and Jackson six weeks to identify non-critical data. Hudson worked on
the back end while Jackson met with staff to identify non-critical information. The
motto was when in doubt, leave it out. The actual migration only took a couple of days.
Training proved to be more problematic. The staff sent by OpenRange appeared to be
straight out of college. While enthusiastic, they were inexperienced in the art of getting
older staff to accept and use new technology. Many trainers had the habit of simply
doing things for the staff instead of showing them how to do it themselves. It all came to
a head when a power outage at the OpenRange storage system shut down and disrupted
operations at the Institute for 36 hours.
Ahmet held an emergency meeting. Hudson reported that the power outage occurred in
North East India and that OpenRange was expanding their back-up systems. Several
members argued that the Institute should switch to one of the bigger providers. When
this came up Hudson looked at Jackson and was relieved when he remained silent. In
the end, Ahmet announced that it would be too costly to switch providers and Hudson
and his staff would have to make the conversion work. Jackson stepped forward and
volunteered to manage the training. Everyone agreed that the Institute should hire 3
more part-time assistants to help the staff with the transition.
Hudson worked behind the scenes, coordinating with his counterparts at OpenRange
and planning the conversion of the next segment of the project. Jackson worked closely
with the OpenRange trainers and refocused their attention on teaching. Resistance was
pretty high at first. Jackson used his personal contacts within the Institute to rally
support for the change. He persuaded Hudson to change the conversion schedule to
begin with those projects in which the leads were most supportive of the change.
Training improved and Jackson created some useful training materials, including short
videos on how to access the virtual machines.
One problem that occurred early in the process involved a graduate research assistant
who mistakenly hit the wrong commands and terminated her virtual machine instead of
logging off. This resulted in complete loss of that machine’s data in the cloud.
Fortunately, the Institute still had back-up and Jackson was able recover the work.
Collaborating with some programmers at OpenRange, Jackson wrote a program that
triggered a pop-up message on the screen warning users not to terminate their virtual
machine when logging off.
CLOSING OUT THE BLUE SKY PROJECT
It took almost a year to complete the Blue Sky project. After the rocky beginning things
went relatively smoothly. Acceptance was slow, but Jackson and his staff worked with
the staff to demonstrate how the new system would make their work easier. Two student
assistants were always on call to address any problem or question. Hudson spent most
of his time interacting with the OpenRange counterparts and rarely ventured out of his
office. He had his student assistants collect information from staff so he could configure
the new virtual machines to exactly match staff needs. He put in long hours so that
customized databases would work in the new environment. This proved to be a very
difficult task and he was quite pleased with his work. Twice OpenRange experienced
momentary power shortages at their server facility which disrupted work at the
Institute. Hudson was happy to report that OpenRange was breaking ground on an
alternative server system in Ukraine.
When the Institute conducted a retrospective (project review) on the Blue Sky project,
some still questioned the choice of OpenRange as a cloud service provider, but praised
Jackson’s work on helping the staff make the transition. Despite the criticism over the
choice of OpenRange, Hudson felt good about the project. The system was up and
running and the staff was beginning to enjoy the flexibility it provided. Besides, the
Institute would achieve real savings from the new system.
Soon after the retrospective, Hudson was surprised when Ahmet walked into his office
and closed the door. Ahmet began by thanking Hudson for his work on the project. He
then cleared his throat and said, “You know, Garth, one of the consequences of Blue Sky
is reducing our IT staff. Grant Hill is needed for the data library project. So it comes
down to you or Jackson. Frankly there is general agreement among the Associate
Directors that Jackson is essential to the Institute. I know this might come as a surprise
to you, and before I make a decision I want to give you a chance to change my mind.”
1. If you were Hudson, how would you respond to the director?
2. What mistakes did Hudson make?
3. What are the lessons to be learned from this case?
I want you to answer the three questions on the end of the case study answer it in 4 pages and also do me slides presentation around 5 slides give me exactly want to say in each slide just put bullet points in the slides and put in the note of each slide what am going to say about each slide, please.
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