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Why Universities Migrate to the Cloud

Written by  N2W Software Team Saturday, 08 April 2017


Universities and cloud infrastructure are ready for each other. Cloud services provide turnkey solutions that can respond to the needs of university administration. Despite its obvious importance – a university’s website is its face to the world – interest in and traffic to the university website fluctuates. For this reason, a cloud-based solution, in which the university is charged only for the bandwidth or provisioned server instances actually used, is a practical move.

Let’s look at Notre Dame’s move to the cloud, which proved very successful. Well-known for its athletic excellence, Notre Dame must keep up with demand for their web content during sporting events. They decided to take advantage of AWS Auto Scaling, which allows the university to monitor its server usage. When stats reach a preset level, new server instances are automatically launched. When usage goes below a set level, the extra instances are deleted. The university is only charged for actual usage, with no need for major hardware investments. This enables Notre Dame to serve all their athletic events to the many people who love Notre Dame sports. Then, they roll back after the big games, saving money when the demand on their website wanes.

A further step taken by Notre Dame was to move administrative applications to the cloud. Universities have always had extensive administrative IT overhead for applications that access data like student transcripts and billing, lecture hall assignments, and reading lists. Moving both data and applications to the cloud spares the university the need to purchase computer hardware and huge storage devices. Furthermore, as universities are not immune to the effects of catastrophic events caused by weather, violence, or political upheaval, moving data and applications to the cloud as a disaster recovery solution guarantees access to important services and data even if a catastrophic event occurs within the University’s campus and local network. All this while reducing the cost of up-front investment in hardware.

Storage in the Cloud: Flexible and Fast

Data security is important for any university. Universities typically restrict access to private data unless the users are authorized. At the same time, they sometimes need the flexibility to quickly give certain departments access to the private data. When the data is stored in a traditional, in-house datacenter, departments require IT’s assistance to change permissions for users and groups. With the cloud, however, university administration can leverage user roles to quickly funnel access to documents without having to open a call to IT. In EdTech, Beth Bischoff, a cloud productivity solution architect, illustrates how when a university has litigation issues, administration staff can give the legal department access to the correct documents in the cloud, bypassing a support call to IT.

Bischoff goes on to say that because of the unlimited storage capacity of the cloud, even paper documents can now be discarded. Document scans and text can be stored and easily retrieved from cloud storage. This can be a game changer. Administrative staff no longer needs to dedicate valuable time to searching through dusty boxes for student and staff records. Using OCR and flexible big data searches of the text, scanned documents can be stored in cloud storage, and both text and graphic images of the documents can be easily retrieved together. With the growth of student bodies, spaces previously allotted to warehousing physical documents, as well as the freed data center, can be repurposed for lecture halls, dormitories, or research facilities.

Enabling Big Data Research for Student Success

Research is a primary activity in universities and sometimes this research isis targeted within the university  to predict and help students to succeed. Big data capabilities in the cloud empower research in every field, from machine learning of texts to physics simulations and analytics. Ivy Tech Community College moved most of their data to Redshift on AWS. The college serves tens of thousands of students with a large staff; however, the IT department is smaller than one might expect. Using big data queries on Amazon Redshift, they can predict with 82% accuracy after only two weeks of study whether a student will succeed. The speed of Redshift encourages them to query many questions that they would not have even thought of before. When the data was in their local datacenter, such queries would have taken a long time to yield results.

Final Notes

All-in-all, it makes sense for universities to be joining the cloud revolution as they gain significant flexibility, efficiency, and cost benefits in doing so. Universities who haven’t yet made the transition can learn a lot from those who have.

However, just as enterprises need to strategize and plan as they move into and take advantage of the cloud, so do institutions of higher learning. One such critical area involves disaster recovery. Even though cloud providers have methods in place to secure data from hardware failure, universities need to consider at the outset how they plan to back up data to protect against mistaken deletion, maliciousness, or software bugs. Fortunately, it’s easy to set up and implement cloud backup strategies with services like EC2 and Redshift Snapshots and Images.

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