Colleges Chart Gradual Migration to the Cloud

Higher education IT managers make inroads with hybrid solutions.

Many organizations view cloud computing as a three- to five-year journey, and colleges and universities are no exception.

Caldwell University CIO Don O’Hagan plans to run 150 workstations across seven labs on campus over the VMware vCloud Hybrid Service. Academic applications that used to reside on local hard drives are now stored as virtual machines on VMware’s cloud service and are accessed via a browser in what O’Hagan calls “Desktop as a Service.”

The university previously swapped out about 60 PCs each year as part of its refresh plan. Now, O’Hagan plans to phase in zero clients to slowly migrate all the applications to VMware’s cloud service. “Roughly 20 percent of the units in the labs will be zero clients and the rest are standard desktop machines, but that will change over time,” he says.

Noting the benefits of the cloud solution, O’Hagan points out that downtime is minimal. “Plus, with our expanded wireless network, students will be able to use any device and access their campus desktop from anywhere.”  

Wayne Pauley, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says many IT organizations turn to the cloud because they no longer want to be in the infrastructure business. “For many organizations, it used to take six months to budget, procure and acquire information technology,” he says. Shrinking that process to a few days brings a strong advantage to any organization, allowing IT to focus on customer service and adding new capabilities.

The Allure of Azure

Chris Sorensen, associate director of reporting for University Advancement at the University of Washington, also sees the cloud as a long-term destination for his institution. Over the past few years, the university has developed an alumni application called “Michelangelo” that runs over Microsoft Windows Azure.

90%

The percentage of organizations that are either spending or planning to spend some part of their IT budget on cloud services

SOURCE: “Cloud Service Providers: Assessing Which IaaS Provider Fits Best” (Enterprise Strategy Group, July 2013)

“The application is essentially a self-service database reporting solution that can do queries on who donated, where they live, to which part of the university the person donated, where they earned their degree and what alumni activities they participated in,” Sorenson says, adding that it aids fundraising activities.

The university has partnered with 10 other institutions on the project, including North Carolina State University and the University of California, Davis. “It’s a very collaborative environment we’ve developed,” Sorensen says. “Everyone benefits. Our partners contribute significant ideas that we implement, and that improves our solution.”

With help from its partners, the university has identified ways to improve its data-loading process, which will begin this spring. Although there are no specific plans to extend cloud-based services over Azure, departments are assessing which applications are potential candidates for the cloud.

“Right now, it’s a bit of chess game,” Sorenson says. “But in terms of a faster, cheaper and more reliable way to do computing, the cloud is the way to go. It’s also enabling a whole new generation of developers.”

Sorting Out the Cloud

Wayne Pauley, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, points out that the array of service provider types can be confusing because some got their start by providing colocation or managed services. Here’s how ESG distinguishes among the different types of providers:

  • Colocation providers (COLOs) usually own the physical plant, which includes the data center, the building, the power and cooling infrastructure, the core network, and often the physical security cages for each customer’s system. Customers are usually responsible for providing all of their own equipment and implementing it. This includes storage, network gear, servers and backup technology. Customers are offered a choice of the IP ranges that the colocation provider has available or a pipe to their own ISP provider.
  • Managed service providers (MSPs) offer services across many different business functions, including human resources and enterprise resource planning. Most MSPs deliver some level of management for the infrastructure stack, which can include backup and recovery and security services. The customer still usually owns the hardware or leases it from the MSP.
  • Cloud services providers (CSPs), or more accurately, public-cloud service providers, offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and/or Software as a Service (SaaS). In all of these cases, the provider owns the facility and provides and manages the back-end infrastructure. To offer these services, a CSP must meet the definition of a cloud provider as set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which includes five key tenets: on-demand/self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured services.
<p>Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock</p>
Jan 15 2014

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