Back to School: Cloud Considerations in Higher Education
When I first set off for college in the fall of ’83, the education scene was a much different place than it is today. My dorm had a land line and I had enough notebooks to stack three feet high. Today, as I plan for my daughter’s first year of college as a freshman at San Diego State University, I am well aware the necessary tools for higher ed have shifted from books to a laptop and a smart phone. And, by the time my son heads off to college, it will probably be changing again! The education space is constantly evolving – maybe slower than other industries, but recently higher education is shifting to cloud computing to establish a learning environment fit for the next generation of students at an accelerated rate.
At an educational institute, there are some considerations that must be made when vetting possible IT upgrades. Learning doesn’t break after a Tuesday afternoon lecture, students expect constant access to IT resources and learning tools whether it is in the class, in the courtyard or anywhere in between. Offering enhanced IT resources can be difficult for many higher education institutions to reconcile against delivering a quality education at a competitive cost per credit hour. Research and teaching are the primary objectives, leaving many organizations without the budget or expertise to deploy the infrastructure necessary to power the learning environments expected today.
The case for cloud computing and enhanced IT is compelling and the benefits to the institution outweigh the initial cost. Consider some of the most impactful benefits:
More and more educational institutes are looking at IaaS as a solution to scaling needs in the space. Ultimately, building an infrastructure capable of meeting peak demands means some resources will likely go unused during slower periods. Conversely, potentially overloading systems, during enrollment periods and finals for example, can lead to delays and outages. When institutions cannot scale up efficiently, these disruptions can be recurring and costly to remedy. Metered billing is a savior to IT budgets constantly in flux. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, state allocation for educational institutes have decreased in the past three years, falling from a mark of 10 percent of state budgets in 2011. Metered billing is a benefit that is not always considered, but highly appreciated.
While you may have heard of business resiliency, you may not have come across education resiliency. It is based on similar principles, with some unique considerations to address the education space. Business continuity and disaster recovery offer benefits to the higher ed space in two major cases. In the case of scalability, times of increased demand must operate properly with no interruptions. BCDR is a failsafe way to deal with spike demands and also acts as a catalog to data that needs to be archived and potentially never actively used again. In terms of deployment, cloud-based BCDR solutions can be easier to implement and less expensive than traditional on-premise data storage.
Wherever your IT is hosted—cloud or on-premise—your data is vulnerable. Keeping all data ‘on-campus’ is not necessarily more secure than trusting it to a cloud provider. Many cloud providers bring significant security expertise to the table and may offer a higher level of security control than on-premise options. Similar to highly regulated industries, such as financial services and healthcare, higher education handles sensitive data of the entire staff and student body that may be subject to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards. Cloud security measures can help educational institutions abide by industry regulations and provide peace of mind to all parties involved.
As the summer draws to a close, students will be heading back to campus to continue their education and grow into the next generation of the workforce. Hopefully many of them will consider choosing a career in the field of IT! The cloud has helped businesses with rapid deployments, resource utilization, growth and cost for the better part of a decade. Higher education is starting to realize the benefits fit their needs as well, and as a result, the entire educational system will become more accessible and functional.
To see how the cloud has played out for some early adopters in higher education, read this cloud case study with Bryant University.