Lincoln Property Co. chief information officer Jay Kenney had his remarks well-prepared for the annual CIO roundtable at the NMHC technology conference last fall. So Kenney didn’t mince words when one of his colleagues asked the group what they were doing with virtualization. His response? “I’m trying to virtually get rid of all of our servers.”
In fact, the CIO roundtable later reported to conference attendees en masse that 2010 IT budgets, like most bruised-and-battered multifamily general ledger line items, are going to feel additional pain throughout the course of the year, particularly when it comes to deep cuts in allocations for additional hardware and equipment expenses. As a result, apartment firm data centers are increasingly looking to host applications on vendor application service providers (ASPs), leverage Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings via the Web, and even move entire data centers and mission-critical applications into the cloud computing era.
At Dallas-based Lincoln, the push to cut costs has included moving from a GroupWise e-mail system hosted on company servers to Google Apps, which now powers e-mail for the entire company. Lincoln retains the employees’ unique e-mail identifiers, but in execution, the company is communicating both internally and externally via the Google mail (Gmail) application.
“We were considering hosting our own Microsoft Exchange application and just putting Google Apps in there as part of the business case, but it turned out to be way more compelling than the other options we’ve had,” says Kenney, who personally tested out the technology before rolling it out to the executive team, a regional office trial, and then the entire company last summer.
While Kenney wasn’t able to provide the exact cost savings achieved thus far by the move to Google Apps, he said the migration has already negated the need for large-scale hardware and infrastructure purchases. “We were at a point where if we were going to keep hosting e-mail ourself, we were going to have to replace a SAN [storage area network], which was going to be expensive, and our archive system was getting so big that we were going to have to beef up the backup system as well,” he says.
Kenney notes that Lincoln has philosophically been moving away from self-administered IT infrastructure for some time. The company’s Yardi property management systems are hosted on the Yardi ASP, while resident portals and payment systems are handled by Provo, Utah-based Property Solutions and likewise hosted on the Property Solutions ASP.
Hosts with the Most
Lincoln is not alone in its efforts to essentially remove the need for huge, expensive-to-maintain proprietary data centers in multifamily. From Web-based software offerings to SaaS and even cloud computing, apartment operators and technology vendors alike have been attempting to develop systems and processes built on the philosophy of eliminating the need for server racks all together.
“Any application that you can get in a Web platform is worth pursuing,” says Scott McCurdy, vice president of information technology for Dallas-based third-party property management firm Pinnacle, an American Management Services Co. “Web technology reduces implementation time; it reduces the support needs; it is a much more portable platform for the user; and when we need to upgrade, we don’t have to touch 2,000 computers out there in the field in order to improve the application.”