Nov 11 2021

What Is Multicloud, and What Are Its Benefits for Higher Ed?

Having multiple cloud environments can help institutions avoid overspending and underprovisioning.

Higher education institutions face a rapidly evolving technology landscape. A growing number of students are expressing a desire for flexible learning environments, and administrators are turning to learning analytics and adaptive technologies to improve student retention and success.

Thankfully, the IT capabilities that are needed to support this convoluted landscape of technologies have one common component: the cloud. When institutions have sufficient cloud storage, computational and Big Data management technologies, they are more likely to get the most out of their IT investments.

Public, private and hybrid cloud models may be a popular choice, but a multicloud approach can offer more granular control. Here’s what universities and colleges need to know about multicloud and the benefits it can bring to educational operations.

GET THE WHITE PAPER: Learn how to manage and optimize your multicloud environment.

What Is Multicloud and What Does It Mean?

A multicloud environment incorporates multiple cloud providers to address specific business or operational requirements. In many ways, it’s the logical next step for public or private cloud deployments, which typically involve using a single, large provider to deliver cloud services.

In the early days of cloud computing, higher education institutions faced issues such as vendor lock-ins and a lack of interoperability. For this reason, universities and colleges often used a single public or private cloud service for all of their cloud needs, regardless of whether that service was a good fit. For example, some cloud providers excel at storage but have limited analytics capabilities, leading to overspending in some areas and underprovisioning in others.

As cloud computing becomes more cost-effective, specialized providers are emerging to offer easily interoperable services. This means institutions can finally have a viable multicloud strategy and architecture, one that enables schools to pick and choose the providers they want, based on the specific services or functions they offer. Universities and colleges can now layer these providers together for maximum impact and minimal waste.

Multicloud vs. Hybrid Cloud: What’s The Difference?

The term hybrid cloud is often conflated with multicloud because they’re seemingly the same. Both types of cloud computing refer to a combination of services that deliver consistent output. But while there are similarities, hybrid and multicloud are distinctly different.

Hybrid cloud refers to the use of public and private services — either hosted onsite or in a private cloud server — to create a seamless cloud experience. In many cases, public clouds are used to temporarily increase storage or compute requirements on demand.

Multicloud, meanwhile, combines services from multiple providers — everything from Software as a Service and Platform as a Service offerings to cloud-native apps and even microservice components — each designed to fulfill a specific purpose.

Although multicloud management is often much more complex than managing a hybrid environment, multicloud offers IT departments a lot more visibility and control over spending, implementation and use.

RELATED: Learn ways to simplify multicloud management.

Key Benefits of Multicloud for Higher Ed

A move to multicloud would offer three key benefits for education:

  • Better access to resources: Moving from onsite server stacks to outsourced multicloud services can help post-secondary schools improve overall resource access. Consider an onsite campus email service: While increasing servers and storage space may have sufficed to meet the demands of in-person learning, hybrid classes tend to push these solutions to the brink. After all, these on-premises solutions were never designed to handle that many distributed access requests. But if a university partners with a cloud-based email provider, it can offload storage and service management to robust and redundant servers that are capable of scaling.
  • Targeted service use: A multicloud approach also lets schools pick and choose the specific services they want. For example, research departments might choose cutting-edge, cloud-based artificial intelligence systems for data processing. Engineering teams may want access to cloud-driven GPUs capable of rendering complex drawings in real time. IT teams may opt for security-specific offerings that help safeguard data. A multicloud solution can meet all of these needs.
  • Reduced IT costs: Large-scale public or private cloud platforms may come with the benefit of uniform environments, but it also increases spending — especially if schools are paying for apps and services they don’t use. The granular nature of multicloud, on the other hand, allows educational institutions to control costs with pay-as-you-go models.

DIVE DEEPER: How can metered consumption help higher ed save money?

Examples of Multicloud Use Cases in Higher Education

What does multicloud adoption look like in practice? Pennsylvania State University offers an example: The institution has partnered with Google CloudAWS and Microsoft Azure to improve service accessibility for staff and students. The Penn State IT department also helps users learn more about each platform and how its services can be deployed to meet educational needs.

To improve data storage and collaboration, the University of California, Los Angeles offers students and staff access to solutions such as Google Apps and Box.

Meanwhile, Harvard University has tapped cloud backup services from N2WS’s Cloud Protection Manager, while building its own cloud security solutions on AWS.

While multicloud isn’t mandatory for distributed computing success, it can help higher education streamline resource access, deliver targeted service use and control overall costs by offering more choices for users — and more control for IT teams.

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