Welcome!

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Containers Expo Blog, Agile Computing, Apache

@CloudExpo: Article

Cloud Computing in Higher Education

An academic lesson in operating faster, better and at a much lower cost

The irony about cloud computing in the higher education environment is that most schools have already been using it to some extent but may not even realize it.

Gmail is one example. Yahoo Mail is another. The fact is web-based applications, which many schools rely on for daily communication, don't always register with most people as being part of the cloud computing trend. But they are, given that they essentially fit the layman's rudimentary explanation of the cloud: where storage and computing capacity exist (provided by a vendor) so all that is needed on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone is a browser. There are more "technical details" to actual cloud infrastructure, platforms and delivery, but for the purposes here, we will stick with the basic view.

There's no question that cloud computing usage has exploded and will continue unabated. An article in the September 30, 2011 issue of Campus Technology stated that a new industry forecast is predicting that cloud computing will account for 33 percent of all data center traffic by 2015 - tripling the current percentage and about 12 times the total current volume.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that cloud computing is not only becoming increasingly popular in general but that it is growing in the education market, normally a slow adopter of new technology. While higher education has always been viewed as an innovative force in networking and high-performance computing, major corporations such as Apple and Amazon have led the way when it comes to basic cloud computing. Two critical motivating factors are catalyzing educational institutions to investigate the cloud concept as an option since cloud computing can:

  • Substantially reduce hardware, software licensing and personnel costs. This also saves on space, repair, and electrical costs.
  • Provide new capabilities as they come to market without incremental costs for equipment or support. The cloud now makes "keeping current" a much more viable option. This might include collaborative efforts such as allowing multiple admissions personnel to view the same student application simultaneously.

To these reasons one might add the explosion in mobile devices that pressures IT departments, including those in the higher education environment, to provide 24/7 computing that is accessible from anywhere with no downtime. To top it off, there is also the ever-increasing avalanche of data that needs to be stored and analyzed. Given their shrinking budgets and increasing number of applicants, schools do have a major incentive to investigate cloud computing as a cost containment solution - certainly a simpler, much more affordable and practical option than attempting to undergo major expansion and rehab of the technologies they already have in place.

What Makes Cloud Computing Right for Higher Ed
The advantages that cloud computing can bring to a college or university are far-reaching; from a cost perspective the benefits can reach across campus. Cloud computing can be used in everything from the internal IT organization using the cloud for business continuity planning, or storing archived copies of data off to a cloud storage area - even students' papers and music that can be stored and retrieved whenever they want.

In the specialized areas of financial aid, enrollment, and admissions, the cloud has proven to be particularly beneficial. In the face of rising applicant pools, these areas need processes completed faster, better and cheaper to keep up with the competition, as well as meeting their own budgetary goals. The cloud helps higher education move up on the cost benefit curve because it's not dumping more work on an already beleaguered IT staff, it's rather simple to implement, and the benefits can be significant. Especially for smaller schools, the cloud can deliver a high-end functionality very quickly that these schools couldn't normally procure on their own without significant investments in hardware, integration, administration, and consulting.

Before jumping in with both feet, though, some basic questions must be answered. One of the primary concerns is how does a cloud vendor deliver an agile business solution to a higher education institution that traditionally has focused on other priorities.

Second, there is a litany of questions, mostly related to issues of security, reliability, confidentiality, and regulations at both the state and federal level. The issue of security cannot be overstated in a cloud computing scenario. In fact, since the institution's information is no longer running inside the four walls of the campus, the first concern any legitimate cloud vendor has to address is security. Most cloud vendors have addressed the security and intrusion issues at least at the level that most colleges would have addressed for themselves, if not more. In reality, security is less about the nuts and bolts of how to protect the data than the idea that administrators must determine who actually owns the data and who has access to it. All this information is being put on these machines out there "somewhere"; thus, the college administrator needs to know who is administering these machines and who has access to them.

Another concern before a college decides to adopt cloud technology: it's advisable to evaluate applications and infrastructure for vulnerabilities and ensure that security controls are in place and operating properly. Setting up an active monitoring program that uses services such as intrusion prevention, access and identity management, and security event log management to identify any security threats to the cloud implementation is a must.

There may also be significant concerns about the university's culture and how it responds to the adoption of new technologies. More to the point, it can be a struggle for college administrators to acclimate to the concept of "letting go" of their data and applications. There's a psychological impact to the recognition that the information is no longer inside the college's actual physical boundaries; it certainly changes the way CIOs look at things. Their concerns become, "How do I protect myself, and how do I get this information?" as opposed to "How many people do I need to do more backups?" Good cloud vendors will have comprehensive and proven answers to these questions.

Once these hurdles are cleared, there are baseline technology questions that must be considered. These questions depend on the technology inside the campus or the technology that's necessary to move to the cloud. In terms of the IT organization, you're potentially talking about major change and modifications to the operating environment they have been accustomed to and are comfortable in. This includes the infrastructure vendors they select, the maintenance agreements that they have in place, and technology questions from storage to networking to computing capacity. Also, on the IT side, it's critically important to consider integration: if these business applications are being moved off campus, how do they integrate back to campus?

From the business side, there is a big impact on the user community; how big depends on the equipment and systems already in place. There are campuses that are still using green screen terminals off of a mainframe to do their work. In moving to the cloud, these schools are changing from older PC-based platforms to more up-to-date ones capable of running browser sessions and multiple windows. The ROI in making these changes is significant, but there can be a great deal of legwork depending on the current environment.

While the benefits of cloud computing in a college environment can be substantial, there are pitfalls that must be avoided. The primary pitfall to be aware of begins with the actual choice of the cloud vendor. Because the field is relatively new, it's easy for small-scale, back-of-the-garage outfits to start up a cloud business and position themselves as a knowledgeable cloud vendor. Consequently, the question becomes, does the cloud vendor really understand your business and do they have the wherewithal, certification and demonstrated success in the educational environment to ensure that your information - as well as your business applications - are being managed properly?

The SaaS Analogy
The introduction of software as a service (SaaS) provided an analogous situation.

Organizations had been focusing the bulk of their attention on their data center, including its physical layout and equipment. But the emergence of SaaS required a different mindset. All of the vendor data centers would have raised floors, halon fire extinguishers, etc. But those requirements pale in comparison to how the vendor operates, how they protect data, and who has access to the servers. Those were the real critical questions that had to be asked and answered for the concept to take off - just as they are today in the cloud computing arena.

What about the legal process when the cloud is brought in? Lawyers are always involved in the procurement of any software or services, so they certainly have a role. But with cloud computing, it does shift the kinds of protection they might look for in the contract. Because the college is placing business-critical data in someone else's hands, the contractual obligations are different. There are questions about the viability of the system, how often it's updated, how long the data is stored, is the data deleted when the vendor says they're going to. In essence, when buying software on a campus, it's all about the license agreement; with a cloud vendor, the focus shifts to the service agreement and the protection of privacy, records, and information.

Switching to a cloud computing scenario can begin with "baby steps" in order to allow the school to become comfortable with the change. For example migrating more localized applications like Inquiry or CRM to the cloud allows campuses to achieve financial savings since the on-site system infrastructure - a costly and sometimes unwieldy element - is eliminated However, the big payoff is in the more comprehensive enrollment management areas where the value proposition for admissions and financial aid can include a major improvement in operational efficiency enabling a dramatic impact on incoming class demographics and a compelling ROI.

The benefits can be huge, and there are plenty of ways to "get your feet wet" in the cloud that can enable an environment of business agility and cost reduction, a combination not seen before in education.

More Stories By Bob Burke

Bob Burke is president of FolderWave, Inc. (www.folderwave.com), a cloud-based company offering products and services designed to significantly improve complex, high-volume time-dependent process and data management operations in many operational areas in higher education. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Latest Stories
Due of the rise of Hadoop, many enterprises are now deploying their first small clusters of 10 to 20 servers. At this small scale, the complexity of operating the cluster looks and feels like general data center servers. It is not until the clusters scale, as they inevitably do, when the pain caused by the exponential complexity becomes apparent. We've seen this problem occur time and time again. In his session at Big Data Expo, Greg Bruno, Vice President of Engineering and co-founder of StackIQ...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
Security, data privacy, reliability, and regulatory compliance are critical factors when evaluating whether to move business applications from in-house, client-hosted environments to a cloud platform. Quality assurance plays a vital role in ensuring that the appropriate level of risk assessment, verification, and validation takes place to ensure business continuity during the migration to a new cloud platform.
"Tintri was started in 2008 with the express purpose of building a storage appliance that is ideal for virtualized environments. We support a lot of different hypervisor platforms from VMware to OpenStack to Hyper-V," explained Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Containers have changed the mind of IT in DevOps. They enable developers to work with dev, test, stage and production environments identically. Containers provide the right abstraction for microservices and many cloud platforms have integrated them into deployment pipelines. DevOps and containers together help companies achieve their business goals faster and more effectively. In his session at DevOps Summit, Ruslan Synytsky, CEO and Co-founder of Jelastic, reviewed the current landscape of Dev...
One of the hottest areas in cloud right now is DRaaS and related offerings. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Dale Levesque, Disaster Recovery Product Manager with Windstream's Cloud and Data Center Marketing team, will discuss the benefits of the cloud model, which far outweigh the traditional approach, and how enterprises need to ensure that their needs are properly being met.
The security needs of IoT environments require a strong, proven approach to maintain security, trust and privacy in their ecosystem. Assurance and protection of device identity, secure data encryption and authentication are the key security challenges organizations are trying to address when integrating IoT devices. This holds true for IoT applications in a wide range of industries, for example, healthcare, consumer devices, and manufacturing. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lancen LaChance, vic...
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it m...
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
In their general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Michael Piccininni, Global Account Manager - Cloud SP at EMC Corporation, and Mike Dietze, Regional Director at Windstream Hosted Solutions, reviewed next generation cloud services, including the Windstream-EMC Tier Storage solutions, and discussed how to increase efficiencies, improve service delivery and enhance corporate cloud solution development. Michael Piccininni is Global Account Manager – Cloud SP at EMC Corporation. He has been engaged in t...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...
Big Data engines are powering a lot of service businesses right now. Data is collected from users from wearable technologies, web behaviors, purchase behavior as well as several arbitrary data points we’d never think of. The demand for faster and bigger engines to crunch and serve up the data to services is growing exponentially. You see a LOT of correlation between “Cloud” and “Big Data” but on Big Data and “Hybrid,” where hybrid hosting is the sanest approach to the Big Data Infrastructure pro...
All organizations that did not originate this moment have a pre-existing culture as well as legacy technology and processes that can be more or less amenable to DevOps implementation. That organizational culture is influenced by the personalities and management styles of Executive Management, the wider culture in which the organization is situated, and the personalities of key team members at all levels of the organization. This culture and entrenched interests usually throw a wrench in the work...
Hardware virtualization and cloud computing allowed us to increase resource utilization and increase our flexibility to respond to business demand. Docker Containers are the next quantum leap - Are they?! Databases always represented an additional set of challenges unique to running workloads requiring a maximum of I/O, network, CPU resources combined with data locality.