Why outsource? Ask the 'Y'

How did the IT folks at Denver's YMCA get into shape? By outsourcing their Windows environment. For them, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.

The various branches of the YMCA of Metro Denver are all part of one cohesive organization. But when it came to linking its Windows platforms, the "Y" was far from being one connected community.

Each of the YMCA's six largest offices had its own LAN for basic file and print sharing, and each had Internet access. Smaller branches had neither Internet access nor e-mail, said Todd McNeil, the YMCA's director of information systems management.

The organization decided to outsource its network to create a uniform enterprise, connecting its dispersed Windows servers on a frame relay network. The servers are housed at a hosting farm, run by Denver-based Inflow Inc., and maintained by CCD Corp. of Westminster, Colo.

CCD maintains about 40 Compaq servers shared by 700 employees and 15 organizations, including YMCA Metro Denver. CCD uses frame relay T1, ISDN and DSL, as well as Windows 2000 Terminal Services, to pump Windows 2000, Office XP and Outlook 2002 into the Y. The installation took two weeks.

At least one observer said the trick to making this sort of thing work is to ensure that all of the different sites have access to broadband Internet connections. Basil Blume, a former CTO at Centennial Bank of the West in Fort Collins, Colo., and now a consultant, said that the idea of a remotely hosted Windows environment intrigued him. But he said it wouldn't work if some of the sites were on dial-up connections.

YMCA Metro Denver pays monthly for 120 users who share 50 thin client terminals (35 desktops, 15 laptops) provided by Wise Solutions Inc. The thin clients are installed in 13 offices scattered throughout Denver. By outsourcing, the YMCA could keep its staff size at the same level, McNeil said. He estimated that the organization would have had to hire one administrator per branch if he had decided to develop his own network.

Outsourcing has some disadvantages as well as advantages, he said.

Disadvantages:

  • Working with Windows, Outlook and files is difficult on dial-up Internet connections.
  • Users must learn to work with PCs that don't have disk and CD-ROM drives. Many users have come to rely on those drives to transfer files. The network doesn't recognize the drives.
  • There is occasional system downtime on nights and weekends when software is updated.

Advantages:

  • The YMCA can add and delete user accounts according to changing employee head count.
  • CCD usually installs Windows patches after 9 p.m., so there's no inconvenience at the Y.
  • Users can access Outlook and other files from any PC on the network or any home computer that has Internet access.

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