“Cloud technology and services create some challenges, but certainly present great opportunities in education.” John Cartwright – UCISA
There is no doubt that education is moving onto the cloud, the benefits are huge, but you need to recognise that one size does not fit all. You need to know about the potential disadvantages so that you can mitigate for them and develop your plans around them.
So what are the known benefits?
- Costs: get huge computing power without any upfront costs •
- Flexibility: instantly scale resources up or down as needed •
- Capacity: access virtually unlimited compute resources •
- Resiliency: support high availability and disaster recovery with a more durable infrastructure
- Innovation: shift internal IT resources from maintenance to innovation •
- Collaboration: provide anytime, anywhere access to shared information and learning resources
What should you be worrying about and planning around?
- Data security: nearly 70% of UK HE IT leaders say it is their biggest challenge. There is no doubt that there are concerns, but a carefully structured security strategy and working closely with the major suppliers will ensure that data is safe
- Existing investments: you will have invested heavily in on-premise infrastructure and you will need to make sure that you squeeze every last penny of ROI out of that hardware. Again, a clear plan for migration and product retirement will help
- Supplier risk: the cloud marketplace is maturing but some niche vendors may not be around forever. Make sure that you have read every last sentence of any contract you sign and be sure that you are clear about off-loading data and managing any novation required
It’s well worth the effort. A sound and well-implemented cloud strategy will help you retain students and support ground-breaking research projects.
Students are now paying customers with expectations to match. They assume that anytime, anywhere access to learning is the least your institution will offer. On top of that, they want the ability to collaborate with fellow students and staff, trouble-free streaming of video and audio content and the ability to submit that crucial essay at the last second from wherever they may be, in the library or in bed.
No institution has limitless resources. The cloud is the obvious place to maximise what you offer your students without overburdening the IT department. With clever use of public, private and hybrid cloud you can offer online access to course materials, a well-stocked, up-to-date library and 80% of learning institutions have now moved student email to the cloud as well.
Competition for students has never been more fierce and you are now competing on a global stage. Being on the cloud allows you to throw off the shackles of a campus. You can now deliver capabilities, course materials and data at scale. The rising popularity of MOOCs shows the impact cloud delivery is having on education.
With the rise and sophistication of student analytics the cloud allows your institution to harness the power of data. This data allows you to recognise and manage risk factors meaning that more students achieve more effectively, making your institution an attractive choice.
Research is a key revenue stream for your institution with the right research projects bringing in direct revenue and creating a halo effect, making the institution attractive to potential students and investors.
The way that research is conducted today makes the cloud an ideal choice. Once research was conducted behind closed doors. It’s now community-driven with academics from different disciplines, institutions, private corporations and countries working together on research projects. They need to be comfortable using large data sets securely in real time. Cloud technology provides an effective, affordable platform for the raw computing power and the required collaboration that is so vital.
With more and more valuable research projects IT departments were being swamped with provisioning requests. The Cloud has made this easier to manage and it is now sustainable.
The four pillars of success
The move to the cloud has been described as a journey but, in reality, there is no final destination. As long as technology keeps evolving your strategies will need to evolve too. The journey never ends but there are four pillars that will support a successful cloud strategy.
- Establish what you want to achieve – don’t start from the capabilities of the technology; start from what you actually want and need and then work out how technology can help. You might want to answer questions like these:
- How can we attract, serve and retain more students?
- What do students say we need to improve?
- What are our key research capabilities and is that enough?
- How will we develop peer networks with other institutions?
- What types of private enterprises might be attracted to work with us?
- What capabilities do we need to further our institution’s mission?
- Make data central to your strategy – it’s all about the data, what it is, where it comes from, how and where you use it. Data needs to be the starting point from which everything else flows. Make sure you can answer the following questions:
- How will we make data accessible without putting it at risk?
- Have we established a proper chain of custody for data at every point in its journey?
- How will we develop a data protection compliance framework with our partners, other institutions and private companies?
- Are there interoperability issues with any of our potential partners?
- Take the long-term approach – If you are going to push workloads onto the cloud you need to understand how you are going to get them back again if and when you need to. Technology is moving fast and today’s latest-big-thing could be tomorrow’s has-been. Don’t forget to consider how you will manage your cloud environment as it grows. Make sure that you have the right roles and skills and have a training plan to ensure your strategy is sustainable. Ask yourself:
- How will we manage thousands rather than dozens of cloud-based VMs?
- How will staff roles change to manage cloud integration rather than on-site maintenance?
- What additional business processes will we need when we start offering cloud services?
- Work with the right partners – the right partner or partners will give you an informed view of what to migrate and where to hold it based on experience from other institutions in a similar position. They will undoubtedly help but make sure that you these key pitfalls:
- Has your proposed partner got a strong record of working with educational institutions? Ask them for references and follow them up. It can be a long, expensive and complicated job moving and unpicking the mistake.
- Is your partner giving you impartial, expert advice on where to place different workloads? Remember that they may be selling more than advising.
If you do it right, cloud technology will open up a world of opportunities helping you attract, retain and graduate more students and provide a solid platform for research projects that make a real difference.