Higher Education Ponders the Cloud

Cloud Computing


Which type of cloud will find its way over (and into) your institution?


A cloud on a light breeze, beautiful day?  Or a cloud over stormy seas?










Can anyone deny that “Cloud Computing” has become the latest buzz word for our computer industry?


In the finest tradition of industry-coined phrases, Cloud Computing can join structured programming, client-server, the worldwide web, CASE, object-oriented, middleware, virtual machine, SOA, and WYSIWYG.  In each case, you don’t want to be the last on your block.


Customer expectations are high ---- in the clouds


 “I’m tired of all these computer automation hassles, it all is too costly and complex, we should just be able to plug in, get this for free, open source share-ware, and all the user needs to know is how to use a web page or a smart phone.  And no complicated contracts either.  And no sales rep.  No consultants.  No operational requirements documents.  No periodic upgrades that disrupt our business.  Forget the ROI study; that will take care of itself.”


OK.  How about a free shoeshine too, while you’re waiting?


Many definitions of Cloud Computing


Every company, analyst, expert, vendor, and CTO has a definition by now of Cloud Computing.  Here is an almost non-technical diagram that does not match everyone’s definition, but could be used for a degree of consensus, at least at a senior management level discussion.


 


































Software as a Service



Applications delivered as a service to end-users



Platform as a Service



App development & deployment platform are delivered as a service



Infrastructure as a Service



Server, storage, and network hardware and associated software are delivered as a service



Cloud Computing is often characterized by:



·         Virtualized computing resources



·         Multi-tenancy



·         Seemingly limitless capacity and scalability



·         Self-service With Web 2.0 user interface



·         Dynamic provisioning



·         Pay-for-use pricing (subscription)






What should a Higher Education executive with a stake in governance know and understand about the Cloud  Computing trend?


There will be many seminars, books, blogs, white papers, and periodical articles willing to lend advice to executives in higher education, government, and industry about the implications of Cloud Computing.  Watch for the “call to action”.  Because the topic is touted as brand new, with an uncertainty and a range of definitions for Cloud Computing, senior executives will be urged to act now, alter strategies, and initiate consulting studies.  The sense of urgency to initiate change is amplified by the current soft economic environment.  Cloud Computing is often portrayed as a potential avenue to significant cost savings.  More than one Board member has raised the question, “why not just move all that IT cost into the cloud and save our money?”


So, yes, the Cloud Computing is a hot topic and has potential to evolve into an inflection point for strategic use of IT.  It is worth your time to learn more.  Attend a seminar.  Just remember to consider the source (or the sponsor).  What business are they in?  Which dog in the race is theirs?


Oracle, for its part, has a very active product strategy to incorporate new Cloud Computing trends, while also continuing to invest in its traditional (pre-Cloud) software products.  That means that our field representatives, consultants, and product managers will need to learn about the basic ingredients of Cloud Computing, to properly advise our clients.  How should proven, traditional on-premise or in-house computing strategies be rationally compared to exciting new business propositions that feature Cloud Computing?  How can these strategies be blended?


As we all head into what may be a new era, and a new popularity of service-based offerings along with new technology architectures, I thought it would be worthwhile to list out a few principles of rationality.


Stop to ponder, and ask the question


·         What is your top objective that motivates consideration of Cloud Computing?  Identify that top improvement factor and keep it front and center for every discussion.  Then ask why that factor cannot be significantly improved within your current IT construct (systems + personnel).


·         How will your IT organization change, with a shift to a Cloud Computing strategy?  Consider the headcount, skill levels, mix of skills, and assignments of responsibility.  Expect considerable change.  If there is a plan for only minimal change, then challenge “Why Cloud?”


·         One of the most visible attributes of Cloud Computing is the movement of the technology platform, data, and processing offsite to a service provider’s facility.  However, this concept in turn raises inevitable questions about data security, privacy, risk, compliance, and level of effort to integrate with other campus applications.  Ask: “Have we previously considered moving our business systems offsite to a remote service provider; why did we not make the outsourcing move earlier?”  Or, a related question is, “Will we consider also the alternative of Private Cloud Computing, either in-house or through a service bureau?”  These questions and the answers will help clarify your organization’s readiness to plan and perform due diligence on the hosting service aspect of Cloud Computing.


·         When examining pro forma financial projections of Cloud Computing versus “as-is” or other alternatives, make careful consideration about the time period duration.  Service-based alternatives generally show an advantage with a 3-year life evaluation.  Capital investment approaches usually will show a superior return using 5-year or longer duration.  Stakeholders should specify: what are reasonable expectations of system life?  Be sure to capture the accompanying assumptions, too.


·         When considering movement to a Cloud Computing service, especially for mission-critical systems of record, your management team should also consider an exit strategy.  If the new Cloud-based solution should turn out to be inadequate, for whatever reason, what is your path to recovery?  Can you bring the software back in-house?  Can your staff take over programming responsibility for modifying the software to resolve important functional gaps?  What about early termination fees?


·         At the applications layer, Cloud Computing solutions are promoting new and innovative features for usability and improved business process flow.  This is a very appealing area for the functional users.  As your management team examines these new advantages, do also ask the question, “Are similar new features available in our current business applications?”  In many cases, the functional department teams have settled into automated screens and processes from years ago, inherited from their predecessors, and may not have received a refresher on enhancements.  This small investment in staff time will make a much more solid basis for comparison of your alternatives.


Higher Education CIO/CTO – Opinions are Forming


I’m seeing an increase in published views, opinions, and studies about how the Higher Education community might take advantage of Cloud Computing.  One example is from NACUBO’s 2010 workshop on Cloud Computing.  They published a white paper as an outcome of the workshop.


http://www.nacubo.org/Business_and_Policy_Areas/Technology/News/Key_Findings_of_EDUCAUSENACUBO_Cloud_Computing_Workshop.html


The NACUBO workshop attendees, based on the white paper, focused on potential cost savings by adoption of a Cloud Computing service bureau model, featuring cross-servicing in a consortium.  The term for this business model is “Community Cloud”.  (Who governs the Community?)  There is also a Cloud definition section in the white paper.


For another angle to define Cloud Computing, you could read 2 blog postings by the Higher Education User Group, VP Products, Paul Czarapata (i.d. required):


http://www.heug.org/p/bl/ar/blogaid=614


Paul actually has strong credentials on this Cloud topic, based on his institution’s actual experience.  “My institution, Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS), has been ‘in the cloud’ since 2002 when we outsourced our back end ERP hardware and management. We now have a help desk CRM solution, email, non-credit/workforce software, and our learning management system in the cloud hosted with 3rd party providers.”  Paul goes on to offer definitions of Cloud Computing based on outside sources.  KCTCS’ results so far should indicate that it is very reasonable for a college or university to evaluate the various Cloud Computing paradigms for possible adoption.


Avenues for Exploration


In addition to EDUCAUSE and NACUBO events and publications, there are many vendor-sponsored sessions which are opportunities to gain familiarity with Cloud Computing concepts and business trade-offs.


Oracle has a micro-site for Cloud Computing that offers recent materials and current events.


 


An interesting document that addresses Cloud Computing at the applications layer features Human Capital Management as a potential mission-critical business system candidate that could migrate to the Cloud:


 HR in the Cloud: Bringing Clarity to SaaS Myths and Manifestos


http://www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/fusion/hcm/index.html


Compared to the more generic Cloud articles, this document places the pro’s and con’s of the Cloud model into context of a specific functional line of business.  Written in layman’s English, it is worth reading by both IT and HR professionals.


In summary, Oracle is indeed in the business of Cloud Computing.  We have new Cloud offerings and even our own machine, the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud.  However, we need to work with customers to help clarify choices of traditional versus Cloud, or possible blended strategies for your particular institution’s roadmap.

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