Higher ed cautiously embraces the cloud

Only 5 percent of colleges say they aren’t considering cloud computing options.

There’s a nightmare shared by college IT directors who have moved some of their online services to off-campus cloud computing networks: Becoming the focal point of a massive cloud data breach, and having to answer to administrators, students, and parents about what went wrong.

Even this disastrous scenario hasn’t kept higher education from moving—however tentatively—toward the cloud, at a higher rate than many industries.

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Thirty-four percent of colleges and universities are implementing or maintaining cloud computing, according to a 2011 survey from CDW-G that tracked cloud adoption nationwide.

The survey questioned respondents from eight business and government sectors—and only large businesses adopted cloud computing more than higher education.

Colleges have gravitated toward cloud services—helping rid campuses of rooms filled with server racks that require costly and constant cooling—even as disturbing reports have surfaced this year. Nearly half of 1,200 IT decision makers polled by Trend Micro in June said they had encountered a cloud-based security incident within the past year.

The Trend Micro research didn’t focus on higher education, but its results show that cloud-computing concerns are pervasive: Half of respondents said security was their organization’s main barrier to cloud adoption.

Schools, companies, and organizations that have transferred sensitive data to the cloud overwhelmingly use encryption as another layer of security to protect from outside attacks.

Eighty-five percent of respondents to the Trend Micro survey said they use encryption, and more than half said they would more carefully consider a cloud-computing service if encryption was provided in the cloud package.

“All [campus IT officials] dread this thought that there could be some high-profile incident,” said David Cottingham, senior director for managed services with CDW-G. “No one wants to be on the cover of a magazine talking about a security breach and how it might have happened and how it could have been prevented.”