Students are applying to universities in ever-increasing numbers as the pandemic recedes. Ensuring the availability of services anytime, anywhere, is critical in today’s education environment, especially as larger student populations will generate more data and greater reliance on digital services. Adopting the cloud will enable universities to ensure availability of services while handling this increased demand.
There are three main technology-based focus areas across the university: research, academics (teaching students) and administration (running the university). Each of these areas has unique challenges, but all of these can benefit from the cloud — whether to increase velocity, decrease overhead, or provide access to services and technology that would otherwise be out of reach.
Three Cloud Focus Areas for Higher Education
Oftentimes, researchers need to run large and computationally demanding workloads in small bursts. Because of this, universities often have to figure out how to build, manage, and maintain solutions like HPC Clusters without addressing who will use or pay for it. By not answering these questions or designating someone to champion this as a shared initiative, university politics can often stifle the researcher’s progress.
Further, this can lead to shadow systems, “closet clusters,” or a decentralized approach to cloud that skirts security reviews, procurement policies, and governance policies. By leveraging the cloud, universities can better manage the overhead of administering a large HPC cluster, the large amount of capital needed to procure and stand up a cluster, and the shared governance problems. This will allow researchers quick and secure access to immense computing power.
In addition to the need for large, computationally demanding workloads, researchers often work with custom-developed or niche software that may not be built with security protocols at the forefront. These niche solutions may be custom built by collaborators or other experts in the field and are often determined to be too risky to install alongside university-owned and managed infrastructure due to the security risk they present. Because of this, cloud hosting some of these solutions that are very purpose-built becomes another great use case where the cloud can help accelerate research by providing the infrastructure required to host very specific applications, such as Cyberball, without putting university networks, systems, and data at risk.
The academic side of the university, especially with increased e-learning initiatives, needs to provide instruction in any subject from anywhere. When you get into more technical disciplines like physics, data sciences, and computer science or creative disciplines like journalism, broadcast reporting, or graphic design, you have students who need access to expensive software, intensive compute and storage requirements, and/or require large data sets. Students may only need access to these resources for a single semester, but this requires universities to invest in world-class computer labs requiring physical space that may be quite limited. In addition, as more disciplines introduce more and more technology, course scheduling battles grow for use of these limited computer labs.
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