What Does Multicloud Mean for Higher Ed?
With the cloud landscape frequently changing, it’s important to understand what multicloud means. According to Chris Wessells, senior higher education IT strategist for Dell Technologies, “The cloud is not a destination but an operating model to deliver exceptional services.”
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Wessells says. “As a result, most universities have multiple public and private clouds — along with edge clouds and micro data centers that function like a cloud.”
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It’s important to understand that multicloud is not the same as hybrid cloud. Multicloud is the use of two or more clouds that provide different services. These could be Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service or Software as a Service solutions, and they are often from hyperscale cloud vendors.
David Hill, global technologist with Veeam’s product strategy group, narrows the definition even further, noting that “Multicloud is using clouds for particular workloads, often by moving workloads closer to a particular service, then finding ways for these disparate cloud services to communicate.”
Put simply: Multicloud deployments leverage two or more clouds to perform specific workloads and deliver exceptional service.
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Multicloud Management Rule #1: Keep It Simple
The more cloud solutions universities adopt, the more complex their IT environments become. As a result, simplicity is paramount for sustainable multicloud investments,
As noted by Wessells, “Schools can encounter a siloed situation with multicloud, since they may have assets and services in many different areas.”
“One struggle for IT is that all these toolsets differ,” Wessells says. “And it creates a new level of complexity that makes it challenging to support everything well — and may even inhibit rapid IT development.”
Simplifying operations starts with higher education institutions identifying where clouds are necessary and how much they cost to operate. “Get a sense of what it’s costing you to place your workloads in certain places,” says Wessells. “If you have a high-value workload such as registration, you might want your student information systems in a burstable cloud.”
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Multicloud Management Rule #2: Find Your Business Case
Reduced costs are a key driver of multicloud adoption in post-secondary schools. “From an education perspective, multicloud can significantly reduce your costs if implemented correctly,” says Hill. “You don’t have to worry about physical hardware.”
The challenge? Scattershot cloud adoption can make it difficult to recognize these cost benefits. As a result, Hill recommends identifying a specific business use case before deploying cloud services. “Figure out your business requirement first, rather than focusing on the technology,” he says. “Then, look at different providers and map these requirements for the technology.”
The result is a more focused multicloud deployment that helps limit scope and spending. Otherwise, “you can run up a very large bill very quickly that makes the benefits disappear” if clouds aren’t effectively managed,” Hill says.
Multicloud Management Rule #3: Consider Vendors Carefully
Selecting the right vendor is also critical for multicloud management. For Wessells, this means “evaluating vendors for their ability to control elasticity of their compute, storage, etc., along with capabilities such as ingress, regress and data transfer speed.”
“It’s also important to ask hard questions about the security of their data, including their ability to meet compliance regulations such as FERPA, HIPAA, GDPR and PCI DSS,” he says.
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It’s also worth looking for providers with higher education expertise. “A lot of hyperscalers will focus on finance or government,” says Hill, “but may not focus on education. IT teams need to make sure providers are certified for education and that they’re offering applicable discounts for higher education customers.”
Last but not least, using a vendor risk evaluation tool such as HECVAT (the Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Tool) can help ensure providers are up to the challenge of protecting university data.
Multicloud Management Rule #4: Train Your Team
Multicloud operations are fundamentally different from that of legacy IT frameworks. Instead of managing on-premises tools that staff can physically assess and evaluate, multicloud deployments require a different set of IT skills.
This will require many IT departments to undergo training. Investing in foundational training courses that are usually offered by large cloud providers is critical. You want to make sure your staff members have the skills they need to manage cloud services at scale.
This typically flows into higher education DevOps processes, and it’s a fundamental shift in how universities and colleges deliver IT services.
How to Tell if Higher Ed Is Ready for Multicloud
Multicloud offers many benefits for post-secondary schools but requires a new approach to IT management to help reduce complexity, identify key needs, select appropriate vendors and empower IT teams to gain the skills they need to manage multiple clouds at scale.
When it comes to multicloud management for higher education institutions, Wessells emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. “It’s not always great to be cloud first,” he says. “It’s better to be cloud smart.”