A cloud computing implementation is becoming as critical to higher education institutions as it is to enterprises. It’s especially integral considering the diverse audiences — students, teachers, administrators and other staff — that rely on being able to access information, collaborate on projects and create and deliver content at any time from any place on any device, from smartphones to laptops to tablets.

Putting a greater emphasis on cloud computing in education is equally critical to meeting the on-demand scalability needs of applications such as learning management systems or prospect management software. Cloud-based commercial applications also tend to evolve more quickly, giving schools the agility they need to support new educational or business requirements.

There’s clearly growing interest in a cloud computing implementation at colleges and universities. Some ways it can serve these institutions include:

  • Helping IT save time and labor on maintenance, upgrades and disaster recovery, so that it can redirect its resources to innovative projects like homework tracking or student intervention.
  • Enabling students and faculty to participate in cutting-edge LMS services that focus on real-time assessments and increased learning personalization.
  • Driving collaboration on a global scale among increasingly geographically scattered teams, whether they’re students, teachers, researchers, administration or even other education entities.
  • Supporting administrators with solutions that streamline and standardize finance, HR and other business processes that currently may vary across an institution’s campus sites.

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Making the Switch to Cloud Computing in Education

Research from Educause points to the growing importance of a more evolved and mature education environment, which makes cloud computing an increasingly attractive option. The results of its 2015 report, The Changing Face of IT Service Delivery in Higher Education, shows that CIOs believe their focus will shift from primarily managing infrastructure and technical resources to managing vendors, services and outsourced contracts. Among alternative models of service delivery, cloud-based computing options proved the most popular, “with 85 percent of respondents indicating that their institution has moved at least one service to the cloud.”

According to the recent MeriTalk Destination Cloud report, which surveyed 300 state, local, education and federal (SLED) cloud adopters, 82 percent of higher education respondents said they will increase spending on cloud computing in 2017. Among all SLED participants, higher ed IT is the most likely to have already integrated cloud solutions into their overall strategy. The survey reports that 39 percent of higher ed applications run in the cloud today: More than 80 percent of respondents said they run either web hosting, collaboration, email or custom business applications in the cloud.

Developing a Cloud Implementation Strategy in Your School

When it comes to any cloud computing implementation, CIOs will need to consider which workloads are most appropriate for their institution to move to the cloud. Commodity services like email hosting in the cloud have already proven their value in reducing server, storage and backup infrastructure, thereby driving cost-savings. While IT leaders don’t enter into these cloud transitions lightly, the pressure is even more intense to assess risks when it comes to more mission-critical learning and business systems that could benefit from the flexibility, speed, scale and potential cost-savings cloud platforms can offer.

Being mindful of your school’s data sensitivity, performance and customization requirements. You should also compare how providers measure up on security, regulatory compliance and disaster recovery, and any efforts they take to reduce migration complexity. That’s true even if your higher ed institution hasn’t gone as far as Notre Dame, whose cloud first strategy has grown to more than 50 different cloud services, with a goal to move 80 percent of its IT resources to the cloud by 2017. Not surprisingly, security matters a lot to Notre Dame’s cloud journey, and Mike Chapple, senior director for IT service delivery at the school, recently provided some good risk management advice for others following a cloud computing implementation path.

“In a cloud-focused world,” Chapple says, “security professionals must work closely with internal and external customers and suppliers to ensure that security follows the organization’s data wherever it flows or resides. In addition, cloud security professionals will need to have a deep understanding of the security services provided by their organization’s slate of cloud vendors, and understand how to manipulate those services to achieve the organization’s security goals.”

If higher ed institutions successfully develop a cloud implementation strategy that works for them, IT, school administrators and students will all benefit from improvements in learning, collaboration and productivity.

While cloud computing can greatly increase collaboration in higher education, teachers must receive training on how to take full advantage of these new learning systems.

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Jennifer Zaino

Jennifer Zaino has years of experience writing about the use of technology in education. She’s covered subjects including the deployment of Chromebooks as part of one-to-one middle school education initiatives; the use of thin clients in campus-wide higher-ed VDI efforts; and how semantic web, AI, machine learning and smart data technologies are transforming online learning. A former editor at PC Magazine, InformationWeek and Network Computing, Zaino covers a variety of technology, education and health topics for various publications. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @Jenz514

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