Mar 22 2022

6 Tips for Cloud Cost Optimization in Higher Education

The cloud offers big benefits for postsecondary schools, but it can also come with substantial costs. Here are some ways to find service savings.

Pandemic pressures pushed many colleges and universities into the cloud. While many were already testing the waters with cloud-based student access portals and online applications, the sudden shift to entirely offsite learning made large-scale cloud adoption critical in order for colleges to continue operations.

According to recent survey data, 96 percent of senior education leaders said that cloud computing services helped meet institutional needs, and 63 percent plan to increase their cloud adoption. But despite best efforts, more than one-third of all cloud spending still goes to waste.

With postsecondary schools now looking to balance students’ return to campus with the new reality of hybrid learning, higher education leaders need new ways to optimize cloud use and minimize overspending. Here are six ways for schools to reduce spending without compromising cloud performance.

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1. Pinpoint Your School’s Unused Resources

One of the biggest benefits of the cloud is the ability to spin up compute instances on demand. In university settings, this makes it possible for researchers to access resources needed for high-performance computing operations, empower virtual classrooms and laboratories, and streamline the process of student account management.

But the on-demand nature of cloud services can be a drawback. If users are spinning up instances without spinning them down when they’re done, cloud expenses can quickly get out of hand. Here, it’s worth investing in tools that can help pinpoint unused resources and setting up regular schedules for cloud evaluation to ensure what’s in use is actually being used.

EXPLORE: How and why to establish a cloud center of excellence.

2. Identify and Consolidate Computing Instances

Along with unused instances, postsecondary IT teams may also find servers running workloads at minimal capacity. Depending on the nature of your service-level agreement, however, even 5 or 10 percent CPU utilization could lead to bills for the entire computing instance. By identifying and consolidating cloud workloads, universities can get utilization closer to 100 percent utilization and improve spend-to-use ratios.

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3. Consider a Move to a Multicloud Environment

Multicloud also offers a way to better manage cloud spending. The concept behind multicloud is simple: Instead of using large-scale public or private clouds that provide sweeping and generalized services — some that your school needs and some that aren’t especially useful — your IT team leverages cloud providers that excel in specific areas. This allows a more focused use of cloud computing resources with better ROI, with the caveat that more in-depth monitoring is required to reduce the risk of resource duplication across multiple cloud providers.

Depending on the complexity of your network and the number of clouds required to meet service goals, it may be worth partnering with a reputable third-party provider to help streamline cloud management at scale.

LEARN MORE: A multicloud strategy that makes sense for higher education.

4. Minimize Manual Configuration by Utilizing Automation Capabilities

The sheer amount of data now generated by students, staff and third-party applications creates a challenge for optimized cloud management. Put simply, it’s easy for staff to get so caught up in manual monitoring and management tasks that they miss opportunities to maximize cloud savings. For example, if current access frameworks require IT teams to manually configure and approve all cloud instance requests, they lose time that could be better spent improving cloud operations at scale.

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5. Talk to Your School’s End Users

Your end users — staff, students and administrators — are the ones actively engaging with cloud deployments day in and day out. It’s worth talking to them about what’s working, what isn’t and what needs to change when it comes to the cloud.

While IT teams may see green across the board — servers are up, connections are stable and throughput is reliable — this doesn’t always translate into a solid user experience. If staff and students are experiencing significant delays when they attempt to access critical services or finding current cloud portals cumbersome or confusing, they simply won’t use them. A university can end up paying for significantly underutilized resources.

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6. Prioritize Purposeful Adoption of Services

Not all workloads belong in the cloud. Some are better suited to secure onsite servers, while others may require specialized instances to ensure the highest levels of security and access. With cloud now a priority for schools to navigate the next normal of education, however, it’s critical for IT teams to prioritize the purposeful adoption of new services.

In practice, this means asking questions. What problem does the service solve? What benefits can it offer? How will teams measure impact and ROI? If clear answers aren’t forthcoming, it may be worth taking a pause — or a pass — on specific cloud service adoption.

MORE ON THE CLOUD: Scaling the future of research computing in the cloud.

Making the Most of Cloud for Higher Education

Cloud adoption is accelerating in higher education as schools look to support hybrid learning environments without taking on substantial capital expenses, but cloud comes with its own cost challenges around resource deployment, server use and end-user adoption. Start with these tips for cloud cost optimization to minimize unnecessary spending without sacrificing performance.

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