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Harnessing the Power of Cloud for Higher Education

For educational institutions across the land, August can be the cruelest month. A deluge of students, faculty members and employees descend on campuses large and small.  All bring a multiplicity of devices to connect to a campus network choked by simultaneous demands for hefty downloads, storage and speed. And all expect instant, uninterrupted, secure, and mobile access to the systems and software that run the institution.

For campus IT administrators, this annual ritual becomes the ultimate final exam for systems that support a vast network of expected services, from the libraries and classrooms to the student health center, research departments, alumni groups and critical back-office functions such as HR and finance. They know that without the cost savings and flexibility of cloud computing, the campus IT infrastructure is in danger of getting a failing grade.

But the fact is some institutional systems are barely passing when it comes to the smart deployment of advanced cloud computing technologies that can improve student learning, advance research and streamline operations. Others have opted to begin a journey to the cloud, presenting both tremendous opportunities but some risks, if not implemented correctly.

Why is cloud so important to the academic world? The cloud eliminates both virtual and physical walls and barriers to access, delivery, and collaboration. Currently, approximately 5.8 million students—more than one in every four in the U.S. alone—are taking an online course, opening the classroom doors to non-traditional students now able to pursue their dream of a college education.  From a research perspective, cloud not only provides access to extraordinary scale and compute capabilities, but also enables unique, truly global collaboration opportunities that can result in unimaginable scientific breakthroughs.

Higher education faces at least two tough technology challenges that are related:

Prioritizing the needs of the institution: there are more and varied technology solutions, partners, and delivery models on the market than at any point in history. Institutions must continue to prioritize their investments to ensure that every dollar of spend materially furthers the mission of the institution in a defined and contextual manner.

Investing in sustainable and extensible solutions: it’s absolutely essential that those investments are not just creating better mission outcomes, but are also seen through the lens of the enterprise portfolio of technology. One risk with ad hoc “shiny object” investments is the resultant heterogeneous technology sprawl. The full benefit of sustainable technology can only be realized when that technology is part of an integrated, performant, and secure portfolio.

I have worked with many institutions to begin to define and implement their cloud strategy. Not every cloud solution fits every institution, but there are a range of options appropriate for every school.  For instance, the massive State University of New York (SUNY) system recently selected Oracle’s Cloud Machine and Oracle to lead modernization efforts across the system. This private cloud instantiation sits behind SUNY’s firewall, yet provides a range of comprehensive, integrated platform services giving the entire system the latest in innovation.

Other institutions may find it easier to simply add cloud as a new service. This was the case with the University of Wyoming, requiring the benefits of modern HR and financial systems. They launched “WyoCloud,” a bold shift to updated, cloud based software, thereby setting the stage for more streamlined student services.

And at North Carolina State University, Oracle is helping to sow the seeds of agricultural innovation with a research initiative which evaluates the collection of data from field-based sensors, drones and farm machinery to make better farming decisions. Oracle’s comprehensive and integrated cloud application and platform services enable the collection and analysis disparate data sources.

If you’d like to learn more about cloud computing for higher education, read my Q&A interview with Converge magazine on how to harness the benefits of cloud. You can also send me an email or look for me at EDUCAUSE this fall.  

Patrick Mungovan is the group vice president for Oracle Public Sector U.S. Higher Education, Research and Academic Medical Center Technology Sales.  



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