Wednesday Nov 13, 2013

Is Cloud Computing Ready to Scale for Higher Education?

Two basic questions
  1. What is cloud computing, and how does it potentially play a role in higher education?
  2. Virtualization should be enough for an ecosystem (universities together or a collegiate of institutions)... or is it?
Here are a few things about academic computing environment.

Spiky – seasonal traffic loads are multiples of daily load
Traffic on our services in higher education follow predicable patterns. We have application spikes, registration spikes, testing and other scheduled activities that drive loads in our environment like examination results to name one.  Once in a while, a special event will create an unusual spike in data volume and not just concurrency. This is more and more true as we go towards an ecosystem of using video and multimedia. However, in general, we can predict our ‘spikyness’, the dates and time... but managing it has always been a situation.

Slow provisioning sets the stage for inefficient use of resources
Even with virtualization, we find that it often takes days to get a new service provisioned in a data center. How quickly can we enable a new campus to run live on an ERP (for instance) to execute all the business processes, even if they are very similar to other campuses. We may have the tools, like fully stocked SAN and storage virtualization. Unfortunately, a fully deployed service requires much more than just the bare VM instance.  There are many other aspects of deploying a service which often require time consuming manual configuration. The problem is that each server has more than the initial fixed cost.  There are power and cooling costs, support costs, operational costs etc.  So here are the challenges we hear from our organizations:
  • How can we respond more quickly to need?
  • How can we use resources more efficiently?

Cloud requirements from an academic perspective

In order to meet those challenges, we need to address several significant obstacles:

  • Critical data needs to be secure
  • Provisioning needs to include network and application configuration
  • Application instances need to be fully portable within nodes in a cloud cluster
  • Application instances need to be location agnostic
  • Cloud needs to be technology agnostic – cloud manager, hypervisor, application stack, application configuration, network configuration, storage provisioning
Secure handling of data is critical
Like financial industry, secure handling of data is a crucial component of any cloud strategy. When it comes to security, cloud computing gets interesting. The problem is of course compounded when the cloud extends beyond the internal campus network. The problem with a private cloud inside the firewall is that if the resources are being used by a broad user base across the campus, any one virtualized instance can request access for the outside world. An infrastructure as a service (IaaS) approach can create situations where one virtualized application service could be handling secure data while another virtual instance on the same cloud could be compromised. Does this pose a security risk to private data?  Conceivably someone hacking a public instance could hop to other instances on the cloud – private or not!

For higher education, the risks and the rewards are high. There will be breaches and corresponding responses. Is our data more secure on our own servers? Risk is a daily balance and there is no such thing as a risk free environment. The question you need to answer is: as an organization, can we do better on our own or does leverage a larger organization’s information security resources make us safer, even if you are part of a richer target.  This is not the first time we’ve faced this question in the evolution of our species nor will it be the last. If you choose to go with the larger institutional strategy (maybe executing around a collegiate), it is important that you keep up with software updates and the latest trends in applications and technology. Otherwise you risk the worst of both worlds: a juicy target that doesn’t keep up their defenses.

Reference: Dennis Anderson, Ph.D and Dr. Peter Morales (Is Cloud Computing Ready for Higher Education)

Thursday Sep 19, 2013

Cloud Computing in Higher Education

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Today, cloud computing is at an early stage in its lifecycle. However, the evolution and convergence of technology trends over the last several years has been driving enterprise data centers and service providers to grid computing, clustering, server virtualization, SOA shared services, and large-scale management automation. For more than a decade, Oracle has been the leader in these areas with thousands of customer successes and a high level of investment. One of Oracle’s most significant acquisitions, Sun Microsystems, authored “The Network Is the Computer”. Cloud computing is merely the latest term used to describe that reality. Today, Oracle powers the cloud and is the foundation for many of the world’s public and private clouds.

Key Points

Several key factors are driving cloud computing in higher education and research—none of which are new to IT leaders: shrinking budgets, increased complexity, and continuously accelerating user expectations. Added into this mix for many institutions is the use of legacy or customized software and technologies that are resource-intensive to maintain much less update. 

Here are some of the key points Oracle has seen in our work with higher education and research institutions around the world:

  • Cloud computing builds on well-established distributed computing and shared services concepts.
  • Data center consolidation, optimization and virtualization are logical steps in the evolution of an organization towards a cloud computing model.
  • For higher education, the challenge is ‘how and what’ to move to the cloud—not ‘if’
  • There are important differences between the public and private cloud deployment models.
  • Operating system (OS) virtualization is not equivalent to cloud computing; and in fact may exacerbate problems of cost and complexity through “VM sprawl.”
  • Virtualization can be delivered at different levels; service-driven virtualization rather than infrastructure-driven virtualization is the most beneficial form of virtualization.
  • OS virtualization (hypervisor-based) is limited and deficient as it essentially promotes creating “virtual silos” instead of physical silos; it therefore does not necessarily deliver the benefits of a true cloud model.

Perhaps the most important perceived benefit of cloud computing by higher education and research institutions is that shared service models through cloud computing offer affordable choices and a multitude of options never before available to an industry which has so long lagged behind the private sector in its ability to keep pacewith technology resources purchasing power.

I would suggest you to read the white paper by Oracle on Cloud Solutions for Higher Education and Research.


Mohit Satraj Phogat
Author: Mohit Phogat

This site focuses on Oracle's offerings to higher education in the Indian region. It intends to cover news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, descriptive videos, and podcasts on the trends which should be helpful to customers, prospects and developer community alike.

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