Cloud app migration, multi-layered security, some top initiatives for IT departments going into the fall semester.

IT-trends-fall“My job is to find stuff that’s transformative, and these days that means the cloud,” said Bob Carozzoni, lead enterprise cloud strategist at Cornell University, during Amazon Web Services (AWS) recent conference.

From cloud migration to dealing with increased cyberattacks, never before have the innovate capabilities of the campus IT department been as mission-critical to colleges and universities under drastic transformation.

And though many basic needs and services of the campus body still require the attention of IT (such as campus WiFi, MOOC creation and distribution, and BYOD implementation strategy), some of the most renowned, innovative university IT departments are future-proofing campus processes through large-scale transformative initiatives.

Based on recent IT conferences (Internet2, AWS), as well as in-depth interviews with campus IT leaders, eCampus News lists five major trends for innovative IT departments going into the fall semester.

Did some of your initiatives or trends not make the list? Be sure to give your suggestions in the comment section below.

[Listed in no particular order]

1. Providing multi-layered security: From Penn State’s Chinese cyberattack, to the hack attack on the University of Maryland, colleges and universities nationwide should assume that they too are in the hackers’ crosshairs. “It’s very rare that a group is going to target one particular institution,” said Ken Westin, senior security analyst at Tripwire, an Oregon-based cybersecurity company. “Usually, they will target an entire industry or a network looking for intellectual property. If they’re going after Engineering at Penn State, odds are it’s part of a larger campaign targeting similar departments and groups in higher education.” Indeed, Westin believes that the FBI is already working with other institutions that have been breached.

Antivirus and antimalware protection are commonplace, but still offer only a base level of protection, security experts agree. Network monitoring is increasingly important to catch threats that can slip past antivirus and antimalware programs.

Santa Clara (Calif.) University, for example, employs algorithms to analyze network traffic and to send alerts to security staff about suspicious activity, says Robert Henry, the university’s chief information security officer. Network traffic analysis helps identify spikes in network use and other activity outside of the norm.

The variety and number of attacks are increasing, says Neal Moss, system network analyst for BYU-Hawaii. Rather than random attacks, hackers are targeting specific parts, specific servers, etc. Higher education financial and human resources departments are top targets because of the depth of the personal information that they contain. So colleges and universities are using multiple firewalls in order to separate serves from one another and limiting the applications that users can access.

“They key for us is using zero trust,” Moss says. “We treat everyone as bad guys trying to get at my stuff. We only allow specific applications to communicate with users.” The applications automatically reject any modifications a user attempts to make.

Westin also encourages institutions to review the security frameworks available from organizations such the Center for Internet Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “That’s a really good place for IT organizations to start,” he added. “They offer an executive brief that covers some of the top things they should focus on in a security program.”

(Next page: App migration, On Demand services)

2. Migrating apps to the cloud: According to Sri Elaprolu, manager of Solutions Architecture for AWS, cloud adoption in higher education is fairly high. “We have roughly 4,500 education institutions using AWS, which includes K-12 and higher education institutions, but also ed-tech companies. Just a handful of examples include Berkeley, Coursera, edX, 2U, San Francisco State University, Carnegie Mellon University and Notre Dame.)

One notable institution, Harvard University, says that they’ve had migration on their mind since 2012. “Three years ago, during our annual IT summer event, we began to have an interest in ‘compute-on-demand,’ mostly for the reason of agility,” said Ryan Frazier, director of infrastructure customer and project services (ICAPS) for Harvard University during the AWS conference. Currently, we have 75 percent of our existing apps on the cloud, and the new apps we have are getting moved there.”

Frazier noted that the biggest challenge to cloud migration was figuring out how to streamline the ability for app rollout. “My advice would be to look at each individual app; don’t do a huge lift into the cloud,” he said. “Try light standardization and lift app by app, because the goal is to improve functionality, not just shift over to the cloud; and every app is different! For instance, maybe one app has a contract and it is easier to lift and shift. It just depends on the DR strategy overall.”

“Instead of a lift and shift of apps, we’re refactoring to get the most out of our cloud tech and including containerization of our apps,” said Sarah Christen for Cloudification Services at Cornell University during AWS. Four years into their cloud migration, Cornell has between 400-500 apps evaluated.

3. Implementing personalized services: Institutions need to promote On Demand models, says Campus Management (a provider of enterprise software products and services for educational institutions and coiner of the phrase On Demand Model for higher education). The Model is based on the premise that institutions are going to require new technologies that provide innovative capabilities for engagement and delivery. “This is going beyond online functionality,” said Connor Gray, chief strategy officer for Campus Management and a frequent presenter at EDUCAUSE. “Engagement includes how to deliver the right message to the right person via the right channel. Delivery includes knowing the right place and right time; not just which courses delivered how, but access to student counselors, financial aid options, community groups, career and alumni services, and many others for helping with student retention and completion. The On Demand Model is an ecosystem to support fully customized and personalized students’ needs.”

Aiming to personalize and simplify student services, the University of Maryland, which partnered with rSmart and Internet2, will provide access to approximately 130 campus services in one location, from any computer or mobile device. With search and app-store-like features, the newly launched platform aims to simplify access (while reducing maintenance and personnel costs), to services ranging from class registration to email, and replicates the communication capabilities and online shopping experiences people are accustomed to using.

“The central question of the cloud-based solution is ‘What would you like to do?,’ and it offers UMD’s more than 37,000 students and 9,000 faculty and staff one-stop shopping for Web apps and services, the ability to personalize their view by picking favorites, opportunities to provide service feedback–including the option to rank UMD services with stars–and more,” said a University spokesperson in a statement.

The new platform, One.UMD replaces the MyUMD portal, with the goal of enhancing access to University services provided by the Office of the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost, the Division of Student Affairs, the Division of Information Technology, and others.

“We are partnering throughout the university to give Maryland students, faculty, and staff a central location where they can quickly search and connect with university services ranging from making transcript requests to getting the campus map in an online marketplace format,” said University of Maryland Vice President and CIO Eric Denna.

UMD’s Division of Information Technology will continue to work with UMD partners to include additional university services on the new platform. rSmart’s OneCampus is available to the University of Maryland and to all of Internet2’s higher education members as part of Internet2’s NET+ initiative.

(Next page: Collaboration and a new campus IT mindset)

4. Creating collaborative environments: “I had an interesting talk with Jill Albin-Hill, vice president for IT at Dominican University, and something she said struck me: ‘I want to be so involved with other departments, to know their needs, goals and staff so well, that if their VP left, I could fill in—not be an expert, but at least step in and be able to provide effective solutions,’” said Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County at the Campus Technology conference. “And that’s what needs to happen in colleges today: working as a close team where IT is not a separate section, but the foundation for all departments.”

IT leaders at the AWS conference also agreed, emphasizing that collaboration across campus stakeholders (admin, faculty, and investors) is what drives buy-in and support for major projects and new technologies. “The biggest challenge we see is in stakeholder buy-in and meeting their needs,” said Carozzoni. “This includes working with procurement to make sure our grants stay safe, as well as all legal contracts are met.”

Therefore, noted Frazier, “It’s critical to let everyone know it’s not just about cloud migration, but as an opportunity to move forward and stay ahead of the times. IT is extremely excited about the cloud and is one of its biggest proponents, so we work hard to engage the entire community, like DDA and SysAdmins.”

Innovative IT departments are also collaborating with multiple institutions to improve student performance across campus.

5. Developing a whole new mindset for disruption: Frazier emphasized during this summer’s AWS conference that when IT plans to announce a major rollout or transition to a different technology or platform, the announcement does not come out of the blue without any warning, explanation, or test runs. Instead, IT departments like Harvard’s focus first on lower exposure areas and test/experiment to prove the technology’s value and mitigate concerns to stakeholders.

But outside of knowing how to announce a potentially disruptive project or implementation, it’s also critical to understand a new scaling mindset to keep ahead of disruptive trends. “Remember that it’s not just a problem to solve, but how to solve in scale,” he said. “The mindset needs to change from ‘what’s the overall cost to solve the problem in three-to-seven years?’ because that’s too late! You won’t get far fast if your overall deadline is years from now. Instead, see initiatives like cloud migration as a list to check off items, allowing your department to complete tasks as early as tomorrow, even if they’re small ones. This is the new mindset: immediate step-by-step to get it done now.”

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