One Size Does Not Fit All: The Importance of Identifying Solutions on a Needs Basis
Information technology groups supporting colleges and universities often find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to tightly integrating IT systems and services. This integration is often spurred by an institution’s efforts to maximize the value of its IT support spending in a cloud-based infrastructure. This crossroad has multiple paths leading away from a central point. Each divergent path leads closer to or further away from the ultimate goal of economically and responsibly delivering the well-integrated technology solutions our colleges and universities need to pursue their core functions of education, collaboration and research.
Selecting enterprise solutions places your entire community on a single platform and can greatly heighten collaboration, enhance accessibility of critical resources and make the integration of multiple platforms following common standards feasible. One of the primary benefits of cloud-hosting addresses for a university campus is that it allows the community to decrease the wide variety of one-off tools and resources and focus on a select group of services.
One tempting and often very attractive solution to addressing the problem of over-taxed IT resources is to look at investing heavily in a cloud-based architecture, which can allow ubiquitous and secure access to university resources, data repositories, file sharing and even technology services. However, there are hidden costs to this approach and a careful proactive investigation of return on investment should be considered when making a decision to provision part of your workload to a cloud service provider. One should also bear in mind that, with cloud-based technology, there is a potential for putting yourself and your enterprise at the mercy of a third-party service provider. Changes to your environment may incur additional fees, development costs or forced adoption to a change for which your institution may not be ready.
In my day-to-day work in IT, I remain committed to making a carefully considered, planned and deliberate move to cloud-based services and virtual desktop environments where it makes sense to do so. This should not be treated as an overnight project but as a steady evaluation of existing service offerings, a consolidation of duplicated or redundant offerings and, when appropriate and cost effective, a migration to cloud-based services.
Some solutions lend themselves to a cloud-based paradigm. For example, I have worked to include migration of email services to a “Google for enterprise” solution and a migration to a cloud-based service offering for a web-presence content management service. Conversely, due to cost or efficiency, some solutions lend themselves to an on-premises solution when cost considerations and guaranteed service levels are at stake. Currently, I am in the process of helping to implement an enterprise unified communications solution (Cisco CUCM 10.5). After weighing the pros and cons of on-premises versus a cloud solution, and negotiating with our hardware and service providers, the on-premises solution and its capabilities were simply found to be a better fit for my institution.
All in all, there is no simple answer to whether cloud-hosting services solve or exacerbate service integration challenges. It is a game changer that will keep you on your toes as you evaluate, service by service, the balance between centralization and reduction in control of your service offerings. As you move forward in your deliberations to roll out new services or to consolidate existing IT services, you will need to be vigilant and continue to evaluate the on-premises services as well as any hosted or cloud-based solutions. Finally, be sure to maintain a good working balance to meet the needs of your business and the needs of the constituents of a university community.
Author Perspective: Administrator