Higher ed’s cloud computing forecast: stormy

One of the definitions of the world “cloud” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “something that obscures or blemishes”. This definition often seems fitting for today’s computing cloud.

I have seen a number of universities move services to the cloud only to reverse course and move them back to campus due to “blemishes” in security, reliability, service, cost, integration issues and/or compliance concerns. In fact, at Southern Illinois University (SIU) we are currently moving faculty and staff email back to campus.

And it isn’t just higher education. A Gartner analyst recently predicted that by 2014, 30% of enterprises using software as a service will move back to on premises systems.

Personally, I have been evaluating cloud services for higher education for the last few years and have rarely found them a fit for my organization, despite the fact that every year cloud computing is a top IT issue for higher education. It was rated the #3 issue in 2013 in a recent Educause report. The factors that make cloud services less attractive to our industry include:

Despite the rhetoric, cloud services are often far more expensive than hosting an on-premises system. I believe that this is especially true for public higher education due to the fact that we receive tremendous discounting on most technology and traditionally pay much lower salaries than the private sector.

This leads to a very low total cost of ownership (TCO) for our self-hosted services.

At SIU, we outsourced our learning management system at a much higher cost than the previous on-campus system. One of the reasons that we paid this additional cost was because we expected higher availability from the cloud-based system. Unfortunately, we have experienced exactly the opposite.