While the situation of Butler University's website overload
after advancing to the Final Four of the NCAA is relatively unique, the reality is that any website can be suddenly overloaded due to unexpected moments of national or international visibility.
It sounds like the IT department handled it ok in emergency fashion but the fact that they insist on keeping web hosting in-house when such services have become commodified in the marketplace and continue to drop in price is what led to their outage. They did not have to have an outage at all because 137,000 is just not that many visits at this point in time.
Though I would not expect a college or university to use shared hosting, Yahoo! Small Business shared webhosting is but one example of how radically pricing has dropped. For $7.46 a month Yahoo! offers:
# Unlimited disk space
# Unlimited data transfer
# Unlimited email storage (Details)
# 24-hour customer service
# Reliable and secure hosting
Honestly, "unlimited" is never really quite that but I think such a service could easily accomodate 137,000 visitors and Yahoo! is a good example of a company that knows what it takes to stay online during traffic surges. Though few such services make claims to offer "unlimited data transfer", other services offer the ability to go over your limit and be charged a fair fee after the fact. Either way, no outage.
Of course, pricing would go up for services that aren't shared, which is definitely the way to go, but my point is that academia's digital ivory tower has walled itself off from solutions that could be saving them lots of money. In Butler's case, I would be willing to bet that the labor costs related to the time spent working on this issue would have covered the hosting and quite a bit more. While I'm not trying to put anybody out of work, it's a bit difficult for me to understand why such situations exist given the incredible financial crunch institutions currently face and the inevitably worse financial realities ahead.
But don't rely on just little old Clyde for insight. The Brooking Institution has just released a paper by Darrell M. West titled Saving Money Through Cloud Computing focused on the needs of the U.S. government.
From the Executive Summary:
"To evaluate the possible cost savings a federal agency might expect from migrating to the cloud, in this study I review past studies, undertake case studies of government agencies that have made the move, and discuss the future of cloud computing. I found that the agencies generally saw between 25 and 50 percent savings in moving to the cloud."
Kyle James at .eduGuru discusses what he considers a "Lost Marketing Opportunity" for Butler and I have to agree.
Mr. James feel that the Butler University homepage and overall website did not take advantage of the near win in the NCAA that consumed so much of the nation's attention and, looking at it now, on Saturday, April 17th, one gets the sense that the road to #2 is rather insignificant news though hackneyed claims like "Academic Excellence" make the current homepage slideshow.
To be perfectly frank, I had to double-check to make sure I was at the right school's website since I was unfamiliar with Butler U and have certainly heard nothing about it since people stopped talking about the Final Four. But maybe they're just too small to need to take full advantage of the moment in time that is now forever gone. Sounds like a nice position to be in!