How to ensure your HE institution is making the most of cloud resources

Mick Bradley, VP EMEA at Arcserve talks cloud storage, and how universities can ensure they’re getting their money’s worth

In the last decade, the UK education sector has seen the rise of several technologies. While many IT departments are accommodating new applications within their existing architecture, they are also trying to meet growing demands for capacity and protection. We know that IT teams are responsible for vast amounts of critical data and an outage does not just impact continuity of operations. It also risks disrupting learning, such as through lost coursework, which could potentially lead to long-lasting consequences.

Universities are also facing challenges and threats behind the scenes, one being the rise of ransomware. The security of students, teachers and staff information is critical if you are working with sensitive or personal data. WannaCry affected many countries, with thousands of cases documented and, although healthcare providers were the primary targets, UK universities and other educational institutions have also been hit hard over the past few years.

One of the biggest challenges is that an increasing amount of universities today use a wide range of digital devices to teach students.

A recent study found that 20% of educational institutions have been targeted by cyber-attacks and, although many universities have introduced sophisticated security solutions to protect themselves against an attack, there is always a chance that rogue malware may slip through.

One of the biggest challenges is that an increasing amount of universities today use a wide range of digital devices to teach students, from online classes to mobile applications. If we combine this with the record percentage of young people going to university this year, it becomes clear that IT teams are under a great deal of pressure when it comes to having the space to store all this data. Universities are looking for solutions that can help them overcome these challenges while still sustaining day-to-day operations, which is why many have started to move to the cloud.

We know that the cloud ensures business continuity and scalability, due to its backup and disaster-recovery capabilities which eliminate downtime and data loss. But how can university IT teams ensure that they are getting the most out of it?

Put your cloud through its paces

Yes, cloud offers several great benefits, but many universities will avoid migrating all their data at once. Most will take things step by step, which is why IT teams should take their time and look for providers who can help them during their transition period. In particular, they should:

  • Take the time to fully understand all of the cost. This includes the costs for adoption and the monthly bill along with any consumption-based costs which can significantly increase cost of ownership and is harder to budget for.
  • Ensure you are aware of the cost to move. What will your cloud provider charge to egress your data either to migrate or in the event of needing recover the data?
  • Test your cloud provider for the services delivered against the services they put on their data sheets. For example, the response time for an urgent case can be set to an hour; test and see if this is achieved.

Ensure your cloud protects multi-generational IT

University IT teams often work in a distributed computing environment across multiple campuses with diverse data centres that back up data independently, including physical and off-site data. What’s more, many universities use a combination of storage technologies, including legacy solutions such as tape, so it’s important that they seek out vendors who are able to back up all types of data and recover easily to alternative platforms for data recovery or data migration. Tape still has a valuable role to play, so having this level of interoperability is key.

It is also important that teams create data tiers; know where their data is, how it’s being stored and whether it is critical. By optimising the storage environment in this way, IT teams will have control of their data in the cloud.

Armed with this knowledge, on-site data can be backed up in real-time, with a second version backed up less regularly in the cloud and quickly restored when needed, making it much easier to set up effective recovery point and recovery time objectives. This will enable a more reliable system, as all the data can still be accessed if a system fails or if there’s an outage.

A lack of accessibility to data has the potential to adversely affect daily operations, lead to a fine and put critical data, such as student grades, at risk, which would be the worst nightmare for any education provider.

As with businesses in other industries, the availability of data is a priority for any university. Many rely on their data to make money, this can be through to surveys to focus groups into certain products or services making data an essential part of university operations. Since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires a documented understanding of why information is held, how it is collected, when it will be deleted or anonymised, and who may gain access to it, universities are held far more accountable for the data they hold.

A lack of accessibility to data has the potential to adversely affect daily operations, lead to a fine and put critical data, such as student grades, at risk, which would be the worst nightmare for any education provider.

As such, the stakes are high. Without their grades and other important academic data, students won’t be able to graduate, meaning careers could be ruined before they have even started. In such an event, the institutions can be held liable, making it vital that they have the right infrastructure in place and are able to make the most of their cloud systems.