The California State University's Common Management Systems (CMS) data center recently got a new home and a big upgrade. The center was relocated from Salt Lake City to a state-of-the-art facility in Silicon Valley, allowing the network to become more nimble and ready to meet the changing needs and growth of the CSU system.

The migration — named the Data Center Transformation project — received the 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Cloud Applications from CENIC (Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California).

The CMS data center runs the CSU's systemwide Oracle PeopleSoft applications for human resources, student administration, and financials, impacting all 23 campuses and the Chancellor's Office.


Improved Performance, Lower Cost

One key benefit of the new data center is a more seamless user experience for students during the busiest traffic times in the Oracle software, such as the first two weeks of the semester.

it's rare to hear about government and education running tech projects that do what they're supposed to do on time and within budget." – Patrick Perry, chief information officer, CSU Office of the Chancellor

"Previously we struggled with those peak loads and sometimes students experienced waits or sluggish performance," explains Patrick Perry, chief information officer at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, in Long Beach.

With the new data center, Perry says, "we have an improved ability for the system to scale and expand to those peak load periods and meet student demand."

The new data center also offers considerable cost savings for CSU. "We are saving money — over $1 million per year — compared to the contract we had previously," notes Perry. He adds that because resources were moved from Utah to California, business is staying inside the state.

One reason the new data center saves money is that it uses what's known as a "hybrid cloud" approach.

"Our old data center was located in a private data center. In order to expand and scale usage we had to buy more hardware and pay for the resources year-round, even if they were only needed a few times a year," says George Mansoor, chief information systems officer at the CSU Chancellor's Office.

With the hybrid cloud approach, the CSU can leverage a combination of CSU-owned hardware along with third-party public cloud resources. The data center's Northern California location puts it in close access to several prominent public cloud companies, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, so the CSU can take advantage of this shared resource.

With hybrid cloud, "we don't have to pay for and establish a bunch of permanent resources that we don't use year-round," says Mansoor. "We can increase our cloud data needs on demand for peak periods a few times a year." 

Perry explains that with the new data center the CSU only pays for what it uses. "We're not paying for [servers] to run idle anymore," he says.


"The Best of Both Worlds"

These new capabilities also allow the university to save on start-up costs for new projects because CSU won't have to build the infrastructure and set up physical servers up-front, Mansoor says. "The public cloud servers are there when we need them."

Mansoor explains that as a project progresses, leaders can assess whether to switch over to a CSU-owned private cloud for long-term ownership. "The hybrid cloud approach offers the best of both worlds," he notes.


The data migration team at work at the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach in February 2018. Photo courtesy of George Mansoor

The CMS Technical Services team transitioned the old data center to its new location over a weekend in early February, but the majority of CSU was unaware of the migration — a testament to the team's preparation and success.

"It took six months of planning and development to migrate to the new data center over a weekend, with 150 people involved," Perry says. "And it completely worked — there were no hiccups."

"In this day and age, it's rare that you hear about government and education running tech projects that do what they're supposed to do on time and within budget," continues Perry, adding that the success of the project is the result of coordinated efforts of Chancellor's Office staff, the vendor (Unisys), and IT staff at each of the 23 campuses.

Mansoor will accept the CENIC award at the annual conference in Monterey in March 2018 on behalf of the numerous CSU staff who contributed to the project. 

The attention is a little unusual for Mansoor and his team, who typically work behind the scenes. "If nobody knows that we're there, we're doing a good job," he says. "You pick up a phone and hear a dial tone. You don't necessarily think about all the people involved behind the scenes to get that dial tone working."

Read the full press release about the CSU's Data Center Transformation at