Sep 28 2021

IaaS Extends Agility and Scale to Colleges’ Core IT Functions

Infrastructure as a Service increases flexibility and resilience for forward-looking higher education institutions.

The rapid shift to remote learning in spring 2020 may have taken many higher education IT teams by surprise, but the technology supporting this shift has been gaining steam for years. As we look back at the many technical miracles pulled off by faculty and IT staff, it’s clear that many of them were only possible through the agility, flexibility and scalability benefits brought by cloud computing. Moving complex services to Software as a Service models relieves IT teams of a lot of heavy lifting, allowing them to focus on integrating SaaS products in ways that best meet their institutions’ needs.

It’s not always possible, however, to adopt a SaaS approach. In some cases, customized software deployments require staff to provide an underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, networking and other hardware to run critical applications. In other cases, SaaS solutions may be available but outside the budgets of cash-strapped colleges.

In these situations, IT departments can still take advantage of the cloud by turning to the unsung hero of the cloud in higher education: Infrastructure as a Service.

Right Solution, Right Time for Higher Education

IaaS computing models provide the basic building blocks of IT to customers in the cloud. While IaaS offerings vary widely, they include services that meet the core needs for computing capacity, storage and networking. In layman’s terms, IaaS offers cloud-based versions of the services colleges traditionally built into their on-premises data centers, without the constraints involved in building those services onsite.

Four companies dominate the IaaS market: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and VMware vCloud Air. Each provides customers with the ability to rapidly provision the services they need and pay for them either on demand or with significant discounts for long-term, high-volume use. This pricing model is one of the core value propositions offered by the cloud: You pay for what you use only for as long as you use it. In an on-premises environment, technology leaders must plan IT purchases far in advance and ensure that they have the hardware in place to meet future needs.

The rapid shift to remote learning that colleges experienced over the past year simply didn’t allow for either. Capital project budgets didn’t suddenly increase, and no one had advance warning of the shift. IaaS services stepped in to meet this sudden unplanned surge and provided technologists with the computing resources they needed to quickly stand up new services, such as new video content platforms to support asynchronous learning or administrative systems. These needs could not have been predicted prior to the pandemic, but the flexibility and agility of IaaS made it possible for technologists to quickly spin up new infrastructure as needs arose.

GET THE WHITE PAPER: As cloud adoption accelerates, security must keep pace.

The Expenditure Model of Cloud Economics

The economic benefits of the cloud are made possible through the massive economies of scale achieved by cloud providers. By operating data centers that are thousands of times more powerful than any individual customer would require, cloud providers are able to meet economic targets that are simply impossible for individual institutions. This results in lower prices for services, but also requires that IT leaders clearly understand the new economic models of IaaS computing.

First and foremost, IaaS shifts technology costs from a capital expenditure model, which requires occasional significant investments, to an operational expenditure model, where charges accumulate based on use. In this model, the decisions made by technologists on a day-to-day basis have a direct impact on the bill that arrives at the end of that month. Colleges must develop new processes to monitor and manage those costs.

One option for tracking cloud costs is CDW’s IT Cost Optimization Health Check service, which provides the expert advice that colleges need to quickly identify services that are not properly provisioned and contain costs in a cloud environment.

A Clear Cloud Strategy for Remote Learning 

Institutions have already seen the agility the cloud provides to their operations; now they can use the cloud to support the new normal of widely distributed operations.

IT leaders and administrators should recognize that IaaS isn’t just a stopgap measure that came in handy during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic but also a valuable tool that can help deliver technology to students and faculty quickly and inexpensively.

The breadth of possible applications is limited only by the creativity and imagination of faculty and technologists. Virtual lab platforms may allow students to not only interact with science experiments remotely but to do so in collaboration with world-renowned scientists. Administrative technology enhancements can reduce the amount of time instructors spend on bureaucracy, freeing them up for more student contact.

IaaS computing is a crucial enabler for the remote learning services that support higher education today, as well as for the future technologies that will facilitate classroom learning for years to come. Colleges that actively work to integrate IaaS into their technology portfolios will find themselves well prepared to meet the computing needs of students and faculty into the future.

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