As higher education administrators face the career-defining decision of whether or not to bring people back to campus, chief information officers and IT administrators at these institutions face another decision: whether or not to migrate academic and digital operations to the cloud.
While the latter may seem trivial by comparison, moving to the cloud presents an opportunity to offset financial consequences of the global pandemic, deliver virtual learning and power faculty-student engagement regardless of whether or not people return to physical campuses. Higher ed IT leaders who choose to keep operations analog or on-premises risk losing out on cost efficiency and adaptability benefits. They could also miss a chance to alleviate the burden of overwhelmed IT staff tasked with keeping complex networks and applications online -- either from campus server rooms or remotely.
Finding the right cloud option (what to keep in mind)
Deciding if, and when, an institution moves to the cloud is a multifaceted decision for CIOs and IT leaders. One that requires an understanding of the options available -- and whether or not they can cost efficiently meet a specific institution’s immediate IT needs with adaptability built in to meet future demands.
Once a decision to migrate digital operations to the cloud is made, CIOs or IT leaders then need to select whether their institution will move to a private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud or multi-cloud model. To make matters a bit more complicated, the choice may depend on constantly changing or evolving factors, like prioritizing virtual learning in the face of COVID-19, and traditional factors, like how much data needs to flow through network servers.
For instance, higher ed organizations with strict security protocols and operations already in place, as well as institutions looking to improve data security and cyber risk mitigation, may want to consider moving to a private cloud model.
Meanwhile, universities and colleges with fluctuating or evolving digital infrastructure and data storage needs may want to consider a hybrid cloud model. Hybrid allows an institution to access the benefits of public and private cloud setups, while deciding whether to connect cloud architecture to traditional on-premise servers.
Regardless of whether people return to campuses anytime soon, today’s universities and colleges conduct digital operations that support faculty and staff connecting from disparate locations. Most, if not all, higher ed institutions are looking to technology and digital resources to increase collaboration among community members logging on from classrooms and living rooms, alike.
CDW’s Kevin Epstein recently summed up the moment well: “Migrating to the cloud right now may seem counterintuitive [due to potential cost(s), system disruptions and/or security vulnerabilities], but it will solve a number of significant challenges, ultimately allowing your organization to reduce risk and find innovative ways to move forward.”
Investing in academic IT cost efficiency
It’s one thing to decide to migrate to the cloud, it’s another to do so at a reasonable cost. With finances already stressed by impossible-to-predict circumstances tied to the pandemic, CIOs and IT leaders in the higher ed space are looking for every way to save. But migrating to the cloud doesn’t have to break the bank.
MediTalk’s 2019 “Destination Cloud Report” outlines the main factors higher education IT leaders should consider when weighing cloud options for cost efficiency as: network speed, level of flexibility, modernization capabilities, interoperability with legacy IT infrastructure, and frequency of costly software and hardware upgrades. While the pandemic changed the world (and the world of higher ed) overnight in March 2020, these factors remain core to cloud adoption. Further, higher ed CIOs and other IT decision-makers should keep security and privacy central to any cloud deliberations in order to proactively avoid additional costs commonly associated with an increase in both online demand and vulnerabilities.
In addition to conducting due diligence, comparing price points and interviewing academic cloud subject matter experts, higher ed CIOs should consult counterparts at other universities and colleges that have recently gone through a cloud migration before deciding how to connect a specific IT architecture to cloud infrastructure.
Cashing in on keeping overall IT costs down
According to Gartner, cost optimization will prove crucial to cloud adoption in 2020 and beyond. For higher education, an industry facing constant budget and overhead challenges, moving to the cloud requires taking stock of current systems, data flows, workforce abilities and map the interoperability of applications powering learning management systems, institution databases, and academic operations. It sounds like a massive undertaking, and it’s surely far from easy, but CIOs and IT leaders who put in work now to prepare for cloud adoption can save higher ed institutions millions of dollars and thousands of human hours later. Ultimately, an initial cloud migration investment can deliver both immediate and long-term benefits -- especially if the infrastructure evolves along with an institution’s digital operations.
Dave Michaud is Vice President and General Manager for Managed IT Services at Contegix.