Published on 2015/11/04
The EvoLLLution | Cloud Offerings Enable Higher Ed to Refocus on Core Competencies
While the initial move to the cloud can create some expense for higher education leaders, those costs pale in comparison to trying to create a market-leading cloud environment in-house, both in terms of actual resources spent and opportunity cost.

Even the most tech-savvy institutions in the higher education landscape are not in the IT business; they are, of course, in the research and/or the education business. Trying to concomitantly fund and build out a central, expert IT shop can only serve to diminish effectiveness in both areas.

Moving to cloud services on a grand and comprehensive scale will enable higher education institutions to stick to their knitting while letting others worry about the plumbing. The argument for considering outsourcing all of IT is fortified today by the exponential increase in legislated and required focus on data privacy, data protection, encryption and overall information security. The responsibility to protect end-users—students, customers, patients and clients, in essence constituents and stakeholders of every stripe—continues to escalate the burden on every IT shop everywhere.

This should compel those of us in higher education to rethink our IT paradigm, and soon. Researchers, faculty and professional staff having long-established practices of maintaining their own or department/project-based servers and data bases, to cite just a few elements, only serves to exacerbate the problem we face. Given the above considerations (and with more emerging seemingly continuously) these practices are risk-laden at best and illegal at worst.

Moving to the cloud may, in fact, be the best way that higher ed institutions can herd the cats and rid themselves of all of those “shadow systems” while markedly decreasing the risk that these siloed systems currently represent to entire colleges and universities.

Turning to the positive side, getting rid of the heavy iron that central IT divisions purchase, maintain, upgrade and constantly replace represents tremendous savings. Additional and substantive savings result when our IT shops can shed the increasingly costly experts required to fashion, support and orchestrate that perpetual purchase-to-replacement cycle. In many instances we cannot even keep these highly technical experts in our organizations because it is becoming harder and harder to provide market-competitive salaries for them.

Data security, and all that it represents, is challenging and detailed business—it requires knowledge, expertise and credentials that are increasingly rare and specialized (read: very expensive). Moreover, they have nothing to do with our core competency in the teaching and learning space. Higher ed simply cannot afford to keep paying higher and higher salaries to attract these experts, let alone develop and retain them. Whether moving to a public cloud, a private one, or some sort of hybrid, the expertise that comes with cloud-based services is cutting-edge. That is their set of core competencies, and they cover all of these areas. In moving to the cloud, we in higher ed would be able to return to our own core competencies, focusing on and funding our research endeavors as well as our teaching and learning initiatives.

Some specific benefits of higher ed institutions moving to cloud-based affordances could include:

  1. Increased reliability and availability of systems
  2. Increased levels of processing power
  3. Consistent system performance at peak-usage times and marked savings at diminished-usage times
  4. Data protection across the board
  5. Real-time back-ups (and back-ups of the back-ups)
  6. Built-in and broad-based data encryption logic
  7. Continuous, fully tested, seamless software upgrades
  8. Elimination of maintenance windows for patches, bug fixes or upgrade installations.

Cost avoidance elements include:

  1. Power
  2. Cooling
  3. Space
  4. Network
  5. Security for machine and servers rooms
  6. Alert systems (for notifying IT when systems are down, etc.)
  7. Fail-over data centers
  8. Disaster recovery
  9. Multi-faceted vendor relationship management considerations

This is, of course, a listing of just a few of the top ones. There are many more, and certainly some institution-specific ones.

Of prime concern right now should be understanding and appreciating that the longer our institutions take to make their move to the cloud the longer we remain at risk and the costlier it will be to change our IT strategy, downstream. The longer we delay the more we will be forcing ourselves to earmark our scarce resources for the IT area at ever-increasing levels. Frankly, we would be doing so unnecessarily. Certainly, a move to the cloud is not inexpensive, but, a purposeful return to our core competencies in higher education, facilitated by a definitive paradigm shift in this crucial area, will benefit everyone.

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Readers Comments

Julian Dixon 2015/11/04 at 11:27 am

The risk of a systems failure that compromises student data, especially financial data, is what administrators’ nightmares are made of. That alone is worth the cost of moving to the cloud. No one needs that kind of stress in their life.

Steve Griffin 2015/11/04 at 1:53 pm

We are currently in the process of switching over to cloud services, which is admittedly a hassle, but I’m already looking forward to the relief of being able to restructure our IT department to be more efficient and also more satisfying for the people who work in it.

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