Sep 17 2013

Loyola University Taps Public Cloud to Power Virtual Desktops and More

Public IaaS offerings made sense for Loyola. Will they work at your institution?

Having already virtualized its data center, IT staff at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore are preparing to roll out virtual desktops to students and staff as well as to student computer labs and business departments this fall.

The university is leveraging public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings where it makes sense, says Louise Finn, Loyola CIO and associate vice president of technology services. In 2010, Finn turned to a commercial provider to back up the university’s web presence and Domain Name Services. If Loyola’s main and secondary data centers go down, the university can use the public cloud to build a web page to provide students and parents with the latest information.

Finn says the university is migrating its enterprise resource-planning system from IBM AIX servers to Windows servers. Once complete, the IT department will look into using Microsoft’s Azure IaaS cloud to augment its server capacity.

The university needs extra virtual servers several times a year to handle the load of students registering for classes. “We need extra capacity fewer than 10 days a year. We can add more computing power when we need it and dial it back when registration ends,” Finn says.

Overall, Finn is a fan of the on-demand capabilities of public IaaS clouds. Over time, she believes most universities will use a mix of private- and public-cloud services for their infrastructure needs.

“I love how you can pay as you go,” she says. “You can scale much faster, and the time to move anything to production is so much faster because the provisioning process is so quick.”

Planning an IaaS Strategy

There are many ways to leverage IaaS. Choosing to do so doesn’t inhibit an institution’s ability or responsibility to set strategic directions and goals for infrastructure, according to the EDUCAUSE brief “Spotlight on Cloud Computing Series: Infrastructure as a Service."

“The implementational and operational details might change, but the infrastructure still needs to meet institutional priorities,” the brief points out.

There are a number of things to consider when determining whether IaaS is right for your institution, EDUCAUSE advises:

  • Institutions need a well-designed and well-implemented identity management plan and system. When systems are all on site, staff can manually manage identity and access controls between systems. But as infrastructure is shifted to the cloud, an institution can’t rely on those solutions.
  • Institutions also need a robust, redundant network. If an institution is bandwidth-constrained or has problems with performance, it will face challenges getting the service level it needs from the cloud.
  • In terms of financial considerations, moving to the cloud model tends to shift expenses from capital to operational. If an institution doesn’t have the flexibility to shift dollars, IaaS will be more difficult to implement.
  • IaaS brings the same legal considerations as software as a service. It is important to understand where data and infrastructure will reside — that is, in what state or country — and whether an institution will be comfortable with where data resides. Ensure also that IaaS contracts are constructed to meet federal, state, and local regulations.
  • What about staffing? In IaaS, staff will need more expertise in procurement, contract negotiation, and managing vendor relationships. Staff will also devote more time to interacting with the institutional community in needs gathering and analysis. Similarly, staff will spend more time on the integration of services. Migrating to IaaS requires different staff skills, so IT administrators need to be careful about how they train and transition staff.
  • In shifting infrastructure to the cloud, it’s also important to involve members across the institutional community, both to fully understand their needs and to keep them apprised of changes that IaaS might bring. IaaS also requires a shift in culture within the IT division, perhaps including a shift away from tailoring its own solutions when solutions already exist in the cloud. IT also needs to realize that it will lose some operational control, although that loss will be somewhat offset by the ability gained via IaaS to better meet community needs.

Download the full EDUCAUSE brief here.


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