The future of cloud computing

‘The IT industry tells us that cloud is the new normal, but there is still reluctance to commit key business systems to the public cloud.’ – Peter Tinson, executive secretary of the Universities and Colleges Information Services Association (UCISA)

Cloud has become nigh on ubiquitous in all our lives but it is still an emerging technology for a large proportion of institutions.

To help you be at the forefront of the benefits of being on the cloud we have consolidated the latest research and identified the most pertinent trends for consideration, all of which have positive implications for your sector.


Cloud is a portmanteau term encompassing everything from infrastructure as a service through to software as a service. Cloud Computing powers the services of internet giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon and that technology is now available to you. This can be hugely empowering extending the reach of individuals’ research whilst at the same time delivering significant operational efficiencies making IT provision dramatically more flexible and agile.

There are different strands that have their own use cases, user bases and dynamic:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

This kind of service gives near instant access to a server hosed in one of the cloud providers’ data centres pre-loaded with the operating system and sometimes the application software.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software vendors such as Microsoft and Google, deliver applications through cloud computing for convenience, rapid up-dating and customer retention with no need for the customer to install and maintain the application.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

A kit of parts which can be used by developers to simplify the process of building and deploying applications.

Despite these strands operating individually cloud means that highly advanced applications can be made available to staff and students at the push of a button, giving access to highly advanced applications.


The adoption of cloud by FE and HE institutions and skills providers will increase efficiency and stretch whilst saving money.

Infinite storage

Google and Microsoft are offering unlimited email storage, they have set a powerful precedent and institutions will need to think carefully about hardware replacement cycles for storage area networks (SANs) and network attached storage (NAS); these may no longer be necessary and space can be used elsehow.

Best-in-class user experience

As a by-product of cloud computing customer facing firms such as Microsoft and Google now have large teams of developers connected to their collaboration suites giving you cutting-edge, frequent, minor point releases.


Cloud computing can help you deal with ‘success disasters’, very popular websites etc, Cloud-based web hosting services can be configured to scale up automatically to a set limit without breaking the bank.


There are a number of orchestration tool no available which allow you to ‘burst out’ beyond your in-house capacity. You can move workloads from virtual machines running on in-house hardware to public cloud providers.

Packaging reuseability

Services and tools that allow the packaging and deployment of application software and micro services allow developers to create prototypes on their own hardware and then push the outputs onto public providers.

Cloud computing also offers opportunities for significant efficiency savings and for making a huge contribution towards institutions’ carbon savings targets. Our initial estimations have found that for just under £200 a junior researcher could create a cloud super computer with 500 processor cores and 750 gigabytes of memory for a few hours to carry our important calculations.

The difference between dedicated high performance computing facilities and cloud services is increasingly being eroded. In this environment it is important to take an informed view of cloud services, particularly where risk management and running costs are concerned.


The pay-as-you go model requires careful management and overseeing by your institution. You could pursue a leasing approach to servers and storage but it is more common to capitalise these core facilities. Changes to processes and policies will need a new budgeting model for IT services.

You might also choose to run your own private cloud and use this as a stepping stone to public cloud services such as Azure. Or you might develop a hybrid model giving you the benefits of both.


There is evidence both national and international that working in the cloud benefits individuals as well as data-intensive research.

The University of Westminster – estimates a £1m saving by moving to Google App for Education and in addition it ‘liberated staff and students from smaller storage limits of their previous in-house solution’.

University of Dundee – they migrated all it’s 22,000 students to Microsoft Office 365 Education service over a week with no down time and estimate that they will save at least £500,000 in infrastructure and staffing over five years.

Mount Sinai Hospital – using Amazon Web Services they have mined more than 2,000 breast and ovarian tumour and germline DNA sequences, 100 terabytes of data.

Although cloud is by no means the norm over 80% of institutions are using Google or Microsoft for their student email with half using them for staff email as well. It is now commonplace for major public cloud providers to collaborate with university and college researchers. It is becoming increasingly evident that cloud computing can make your institution more agile and support continuous improvement in teaching and learning as well as research.

What next?

Of course it’s impossible to see the future but we can confidently predict that, as work-based and community learning grows, very shortly it will be the norm to take advantage of the intense competition between cloud vendors and fully exploit the elasticity, efficiency and value that public cloud provides. Moreover, institutions will share experience and best practice and work with organisations like Jisc to fully embrace and embed the cloud.


You can find out more from Jisc’s Future of Cloud Computing report and see the Jisc Cloud Survey. If you need any more information or support Jisc works closely with the educational community and we will be able to help you.

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