THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
What is it?
In its broadest usage, the term cloud computing refers to the
delivery of scalable IT resources over the Internet, as opposed to
hosting and operating those resources locally, such as on a college
William is the CIO at a medium-sized liberal arts college.
or university network. Those resources can include applications
Like the rest of the institution, the IT department is a rela-
and services, as well as the infrastructure on which they operate.
tively lean operation, with a modest budget that in large
By deploying IT infrastructure and services over the network, an
part is devoted to covering operational costs. When the
organization can purchase these resources on an as-needed basis
time comes to replace an aging e-mail system, the college
and avoid the capital costs of software and hardware. With cloud
conducts a careful evaluation of several external providers
computing, IT capacity can be adjusted quickly and easily to ac-
of e-mail services and pilots one of the options. Despite his
commodate changes in demand. While remotely hosted, managed
concerns about issues including security and privacy, in the
services have long been a part of the IT landscape, a heightened
end William supports sourcing student e-mail from “the
interest in cloud computing is being fueled by ubiquitous networks,
cloud,” knowing that the new service will be operational
maturing standards, the rise of hardware and software virtualiza-
quickly and that the support and reliability that the provider
tion, and the push to make IT costs variable and transparent.
offers exceed what his budget would allow for a system de-
veloped—or at least maintained—in-house.
Who’s doing it?
Cloud and cloud-like solutions appear to be widespread
When the physics department requests a suite of expensive,
and growing in higher education, though in relatively focused ar-
complex software, William knows he needs to investigate
eas, such as student e-mail. E-mail notwithstanding, higher educa-
his options. The costs are considerable, and William does
tion institutions are more likely to obtain new services from the
not have the expertise on his staff to adequately maintain
cloud than to transition established services that have long been
the software, which requires specialized knowledge and
operated by the campus. Many colleges and universities see pock-
frequent updates. A large university in another state is a
ets of cloud service usage in other areas, often led by individual
recognized leader in the subfield for which this application
faculty or students looking for the added flexibility and conve-
is used, and William negotiates an arrangement in which
nience that the cloud can provide. Among the drivers that are
that university hosts and maintains the software, which is
encouraging more institutions to contemplate cloud services are
accessed over the Internet. William’s college only pays for
budget pressures, calls for increased reliability of and access to IT
actual usage, saving costs overall and allowing William to
systems, and the need for institutions to provide timely access to
accurately track IT budget dollars and the IT staff to focus
the latest IT functionality.
on activities that better match their skills.
For the spring semester, the chair of the economics depart-
How does it work?
In traditional enterprise computing, IT departments forecast
ment organizes an international summit, which will bring
demand for applications and capacity and invest time and money
hundreds of attendees to the campus for four days of high-
to develop those resources in-house or purchase them from others
profile meetings. For conference sessions, the presenters
and operate them in-house. With cloud computing, institutions pro-
need reliable connectivity and access to remote resources,
cure IT services from remote providers, and campus constituents
and most of the event will be webcast for those unable to
access these resources over the Internet. E-mail, for example, long
attend. The summit’s IT needs exceed the college’s capac-
considered a staple of an institution’s IT operations, can be ob-
ity, and William understands that the consequences of an
tained from a range of sources, and a growing number of campuses
IT failure in such a public venue would be considerable, for
contract with outside suppliers for this function. Software is hosted
the faculty member who organized it and for the college as
by the provider and does not need to be installed—or maintained—
well. In the weeks leading up to the event, William and his
on individual computers around campus. In some cases, a large
staff purchase IT infrastructure from the cloud. The arrange-
university or a consortium might become a provider of cloud ser-
ment calls for specified levels of service, even through the
vices. Storage and processing needs can also be met by the cloud.
spikes and troughs of demand during the summit. Without
Institutions pay only for the resources used, and users can access
having to invest scarce capital dollars in campus IT services,
the applications and files they need from virtually any Internet-
William is able to provide robust, reliable IT functions for the
event, and after the summit ends, the college reduces its
capacity for IT services to a more typical level.
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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
connected computer. In a mature cloud computing environment,
increase considerably in the coming years. To the extent that these
institutions would be able to add new IT services or respond to
efforts are successful, confidence in the model and trust in provid-
changes in capacity on the fly, saving capital costs that can be
ers will grow, and institutions will be more amenable to transfer-
redirected to programs of strategic value to the institution.
ring a larger number of services to the cloud. Conversely, a breach
of trust by a cloud provider would likely leave institutions uneasy
Why is it significant?
about cloud services.
Cloud computing presents IT organizations with a funda-
mentally different model of operation, one that takes advantage
Although the benefits of cloud computing are becoming more tan-
of the maturity of web applications and networks and the rising
gible, significant policy and technology issues must still be sorted
interoperability of computing systems to provide IT services.
out for it to reach its potential. Even as “public” clouds are being
Cloud providers specialize in particular applications and services,
developed, a new class of “private” clouds is taking shape. Whereas
and this expertise allows them to efficiently manage upgrades
public cloud providers offer relatively undifferentiated services,
and maintenance, backups, disaster recovery, and failover func-
private clouds pursue similar economies of scale but do so while
tions. As a result, consumers of cloud services may see increased
preserving the ability to customize applications and services for
reliability, even as costs decline due to economies of scale and
consumers. Large organizations, such as statewide offices for high-
other production factors. With cloud computing, organizations
er education, for instance, might invest in cloud services for all the
can monitor current needs and make on-the-fly adjustments to
institutions in the system. As greater numbers of campuses con-
increase or decrease capacity, accommodating spikes in demand
sider cloud computing, services that have institutional identifica-
without paying for unused capacity during slower times. Aside
tion or integration needs are less likely to be sourced from the
from the potential to lower costs, colleges and universities gain
cloud, and a heterogeneous mix of services—some from the public
the flexibility of being able to respond quickly to requests for new
cloud, others from private clouds, still others developed in-house
services by purchasing them from the cloud. Cloud computing
or purchased and customized—is likely to characterize most insti-
encourages IT organizations and providers to increase standard-
tutional IT portfolios.
ization of protocols and processes so that the many pieces of the
What are the implications for higher
cloud computing model can interoperate properly and efficiently.
Cloud computing’s scalability is another key benefit to higher
Colleges and universities are expected to provide a wide and grow-
education, particularly for research projects that require vast
ing array of technology services, some of which are highly special-
amounts of storage or processing capacity for a limited time.
ized or idiosyncratic to individual campuses, whereas others sim-
Some companies have built data centers near sources of renew-
ply need to be available. By offering commodity services over the
able energy, such as wind farms and hydroelectric facilities, and
Internet, cloud computing offers one way for institutions to in-
cloud computing affords access to these providers of “green IT.”
crease operational efficiency and focus scarce resources on ser-
Finally, cloud computing allows college and university IT providers
vices that are institutional differentiators. Operating in a cloud en-
to make IT costs transparent and thus match consumption of IT
vironment requires IT leaders and staff to develop different skills,
services to those who pay for such services.
such as managing contracts, overseeing integration between in-
What are the downsides?
house and outsourced services, and mastering a different model of
Cloud computing introduces significant concerns about
IT budgets. Cloud services might facilitate inter-institutional col-
privacy, security, data integrity, intellectual property manage-
laboration because they are more easily accessed by students and
ment, audit trails, and other issues. Because higher education is
faculty at disparate institutions. In addition, despite the potential
subject not only to institutional policies but also to a broad range
security risks posed by cloud services, some would argue that
of state and federal regulations, these issues are complex and be-
cloud services offer more security than on-campus solutions, given
come even more difficult in the context of inter-institutional cloud
the complexity of mounting an effective IT security effort at the
initiatives. Because of the control that consumers of cloud ser-
vices cede to providers, successful initiatives rely on a high degree
of trust between a college or university and a supplier, including
confidence in the provider’s long-term viability.
Where is it going?
The emergence of cloud computing as a viable option for
EDuCAuSE is a nonprofit membership association created to support
a growing number of IT services speaks to a level of Internet
those who lead, manage, and use information technology to benefit
penetration and infrastructure maturity that did not exist just a
higher education. A comprehensive range of resources and activities
few years ago. Analysts expect cloud computing to see main-
is available to all EDuCAuSE members. The association’s strategic
directions include focus in four areas: Teaching and Learning; Managing
stream adoption in 2–5 years, and some higher education IT lead-
the Enterprise; E-Research and E-Scholarship; and the Evolving Role of
ers believe that cloud computing programs on campus will
IT and Leadership. For more information, visit educause.edu.