Internet2 bringing more cloud computing programs to campuses

HP will provide the cloud infrastructure for campus researchers.

Eleven universities will have access to advanced cloud computing services through Hewlett-Packard and two other technology companies that will provide the cloud-based programs at a discount for members of the research-intensive network consortium, Internet2.

The “above the network” features in the private cloud network announced by Internet2 officials this week include virtual meeting rooms for educators and students, telepresence, and desktop collaboration for professors and researchers, meaning colleges wouldn’t have to build their own cloud infrastructure.

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The cloud programs will be made available through HP’s Cloud Infrastructure, in partnership with SHI International. High-speed cloud networks have become an essential tool for researchers at the country’s best-known research institutions, said Rich Geraffo, senior vice president and managing director of HP Enterprise business

“Top research institutions require flexible, affordable cloud services to be able to conduct some of the most important, compute-intensive research in the world,” Geraffo said.

The 11 schools that will begin using the cloud-based tools in January include Cornell University; Indiana University; Penn State; University of Notre Dame; University of Utah; University of California, Berkeley;  and the University of Michigan.

The cloud computing programs is part of a new initiative known as Internet2 NET+, which could provide discounted technology services to Internet2’s 235 higher-education members.

Internet2’s foray into cloud computing will also give campus IT officials access to services from a company called Box, a content sharing platform that educators can use in team projects and research.

Box recently worked with Hunter College in New York to help the school’s rehabilitation research group more easily share files online, instead of constantly eMailing ever-changing documents back and forth between contributors, according to a Box white paper.

Before using the cloud-based Box system, Hunter College researchers had to conduct conference calls when research documents needed to be edited.

The Hunter research team tried sharing the documents on the school’s Blackboard platform, but updated versions of that site didn’t allow researchers to share the online information with people outside the college.

John O’Neill, a professor at Hunter College, called the Box cloud-based system “intuitive” for researchers, adding that the program didn’t have the “bells and whistles” that other file sharing services had, but that the college didn’t need.

“You can’t collaborate if you can’t share files,” O’Neill said in Box’s whitepaper. “You can’t collaborate if you can’t centralize materials somewhere and access them when you’re not together as a group.”

Officials at the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in Olympia, Wash., used Box to manage the influx of student project submissions and updates from educators.

Using Box, PEI officials had students upload their documents to the cloud-based site, where the assignments were organized in various folders. Putting the documents on the Box website also saved educators time in converting each document to a digital format.

National surveys have shown that higher education is near the forefront of cloud computing adoption, despite persistent security concerns about moving student data away from campus servers and onto the internet.

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.

Lingering security concerns could slow higher education’s shift to the cloud, experts said, but only 5 percent of college respondents to the CDW-G survey said they were “not considering” moving campus information to the cloud.

Three in 10 said they were planning a move to a cloud-computing network.

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