Cloud services help universities slash infrastructure expenses and refocus staff on educational apps. 

Jul 15 2014

Colleges Look to the Cloud for Savings

Cloud services help universities slash infrastructure expenses and refocus staff on educational apps.

Madison College, a two-year technical school in Madison, Wis., reduced server and maintenance costs by deploying Microsoft Office 365. But for Jim Lowe, director of networking and security management, that’s just the start.

“We have 300 to 500 applications that we roll out every semester. Now that we don’t need people to manage our email servers day to day, the IT staff can focus on applications that meet the institution’s educational needs,” Lowe says.

IT staff who previously focused on email can now work on what he calls middleware layer tasks, such as integrating identity management to support bring-your-own-device initiatives, as well as an enterprise service bus for communications between applications, messaging and workflow. “What I’d like us to work toward is the software-defined data center, where we’re able to move applications and services on or off the cloud in software,” Lowe says.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says the operational efficiencies that the cloud delivers also aid the balance sheet. “Cost savings are important, but there’s also a lot to be said for the way the cloud lets IT departments easily provision IT services to end users,” Bowker says. “Organizations can scale services up or down as they need them, which makes them more agile.”

Clouding Around

The University of Michigan began its cloud journey in 2010, and since then, it has entered into strategic relationships with Amazon Web Services, Box and Google, among others.


The percentage of IT managers who say their organization uses SaaS applications

SOURCE: “2014 Public Cloud Computing Trends” (Enterprise Strategy Group, March 2014 )

Jim Bujaki, executive director of infrastructure services and operations in the Office of the CIO, agrees that cost savings are only part of the picture.

“The university sees the greatest benefits of the cloud in other areas,” Bujaki says. “First, cloud services offer a practical opportunity for our researchers and faculty to easily access the technology they need, when they need it. The cloud also offers a real opportunity to shift IT experts from managing infrastructure to having more direct involvement in support of research and education.”

For example, database architects and developers from the University of Michigan’s IT staff are now more involved in the upfront planning of support for research projects, such as the Transportation Research Institute. In addition, IT team members are working with Colorado State University, Indiana University and the University of Florida to investigate ways to improve content sharing between universities.

Bujaki adds that tapping Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service lets the university respond quickly and cost-effectively when IT needs surge, such as during student registration or when a researcher wins a grant. He says there’s less of a need to procure and support on-campus IT infrastructure to handle bursts of activity, which frees up capital.

“Pay-as-you-go pricing means we pay only for what we need, and we get the latest features and functionality without investing directly,” Bujaki says.

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In Search of Cloud Architects

As organizations move applications to the cloud, IT staff will spend less time on infrastructure management and more on system design and deciding which applications make sense for a cloud provider.

According to a recent Enterprise Strategy Group survey on IT hiring trends, 35 percent of IT managers say they’ll add IT architecture and planning positions in the next year.

“Anyone with experience in architecting applications and delivering them through the cloud will be in high demand,” says Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group. “Organizations also need people who understand the economics of cloud computing as well as how to negotiate contracts and service-level agreements.”

Of course, there may be a skills shortage as organizations vie for the available talent and take the next 12 to 18 months to retrain their staff. The survey also reports that 24 percent of IT managers expect to have problems finding people to fill those positions in the next year.