Guest Post: Cloud Computing in Higher Education

The following is a guest post from Bob Burke about uses of cloud computing in higher ed. It’s more an overview, and many of you web developers may find you already know this, but for those that are new to web and IT in higher ed, there’s some good primer information.

CLoudThe irony about cloud computing in the higher education environment is that most schools have already been using it to some extent but may not even realize it.

Gmail is one example. Yahoo Mail is another. The fact is, web-based applications – which many schools rely on for daily communication – don’t always register with most people as being part of the cloud computing trend. But they are, given that they essentially fit the layman’s rudimentary explanation of the cloud: where storage and computing capacity exist (provided by a vendor) so all that is needed on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone is a browser. There are more “technical details” to actual cloud infrastructure, platforms and delivery, but for the purposes here, we will stick with the basic view.

There’s no question that cloud computing usage has exploded and will continue unabated. An article in the September 30, 2011 issue of Campus Technology stated that a new industry forecast is predicting that cloud computing will account for 33 percent of all data center traffic by 2015–tripling the current percentage and about 12 times the total current volume.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that cloud computing is not only becoming increasingly popular in general but that it is growing in the education market, normally a slow adopter of new technology. While higher education has always been viewed as an innovative force in networking and high-performance computing, major corporations such as Apple and Amazon have led the way when it comes to basic cloud computing. Two, critical motivating factors are catalyzing educational institutions to investigate the cloud concept as an option to since cloud computing can:

Substantially reduce hardware, software licensing and personnel costs. This also saves on space, repair, and electrical costs.

Provide new capabilities as they come to market without the incremental costs for equipment or support. The cloud now makes “keeping current” a much more viable option. This might include collaborative efforts such as allowing multiple admissions personnel to view the same student application simultaneously.

To these reasons, one might add the explosion in mobile devices that pressures IT departments – including those in the higher education environment – to provide 24/7 computing that is accessible from anywhere with no downtime. To top it off, there is also the ever- increasing avalanche of data that needs to be stored and analyzed. Given their shrinking budgets and increasing applicants, schools do have a major incentive to investigate cloud computing as a cost containment solution – certainly a simpler, much more affordable and practical option than attempting to undergo major expansion and rehab of technologies they already have in place.

What Makes Cloud Computing Right For Higher Ed

The advantages that cloud computing can bring to a college or university are far-reaching; from a cost perspective the benefits can reach all across campus. Cloud computing can be used in everything from the internal IT organization using the cloud for business continuity planning, or storing archived copies of data off to a cloud storage area – even students’ papers and music that can be stored and retrieved whenever they want.

In the specialized areas of financial aid, enrollment, and admissions, the cloud has proven to be particularly beneficial. In the face of rising applicant pools, these areas need processes completed faster, better and cheaper methods to keep up with the competition, as well as meeting their own budgetary goals. The cloud helps higher education move up on the cost benefit curve because it’s not dumping more work on an already beleaguered IT staff, it’s rather simple to implement, and the benefits can be significant. Especially for smaller schools, the cloud can deliver high-end functionality very quickly that these schools coul