How the right data storage can allow universities to thrive in the online learning era

In certain situations, the highly popular public cloud isn’t always the best answer for your institution’s data storage

We’ve had more than a glimpse into the future of education during this past year. Many universities have now shifted to offering remote learning through the use of teleconferencing, collaboration tools and data sharing platforms.

On the one hand, this has allowed for the continuation of learning and improved teaching methods despite the ongoing disruption. On the other hand, it has also posed challenges for education providers due to the rapid increase in both the quantity and type of data being generated, along with the demand for remote access to files.

For example, lessons that are carried out on teleconferencing platforms must be recorded and securely stored. Certain subjects, such as life sciences and media-focused courses, rely on large data files being created and shared with students, which can put significant pressure on IT infrastructures.

Although the platforms are in place to allow for remote learning, universities must keep pace with technologies and solutions that support the data behind it if they want to thrive in the months and years to come.

Is public cloud the answer?

In response to these growing data volumes, many universities have increased their use of public cloud. This is primarily because it can be useful for certain applications that rely on data sharing and is valuable in student-facing situations where students and faculty need to log in from different locations with varying levels of connectivity. However, there are pitfalls that universities must consider.

For example, public clouds employ a tiered pricing strategy where cost increases can be high once usage reaches a certain point, and the movement of data can result in additional charges due to increased bandwidth demands. Public cloud egress fees in particular – i.e., moving data out of the cloud – can represent a significant and unpredictable cost. Therefore, universities may be caught off guard by large, unexpected bills.

“Public cloud egress fees in particular – i.e., moving data out of the cloud – can represent a significant and unpredictable cost. Therefore, universities may be caught off guard by large, unexpected bills”

Health sciences departments provide a perfect example. They are tasked with storing large quantities of unstructured data, such as genetic data, which must be readily accessible for analysis. As this data can be expensive to move out of the public cloud, the costs can quickly accumulate.

There are also security issues to consider; when using public cloud, universities are effectively depending on a third-party to keep their data secure. Although public clouds aren’t inherently unsafe, the data is out of institutions’ control. This means universities have no real way of knowing if their data is adequately protected against today’s plethora of security threats.

“Although public clouds aren’t inherently unsafe, the data is out of institutions’ control”

The final factor is performance. Because public clouds are located offsite, there will always be some latency and bandwidth issues involved in accessing and retrieving the data stored there. And, even with the strictest SLAs in places, the risk of outages will never completely disappear.

On-premise object storage tops the class

These challenges all illustrate that although public cloud has a role to play in helping universities manage large-scale data growth, relying too heavily on public cloud can be a mistake.

Instead, universities would be best served by putting on-premise object storage at the heart of their IT infrastructures. Like public cloud storage, it provides the scalability and flexibility to manage and access large data volumes but without the cost, security and performance drawbacks. Of course, on-premise object storage still requires appropriate investment to ensure the infrastructure can scale and meet their performance needs, but universities don’t have to worry about any financial surprises when using on-premise storage. They can expand the infrastructure as needed while avoiding the dramatic cost increases that can come from accessing public cloud data.

On-premise object storage also provides a greater element of control than the public cloud. Responsibility for security and compliance rests solely in the universities’ hands, with the peace of mind that data will be kept under their own management even when faculty or students are accessing it remotely.

Most importantly, security standards can be maintained. For example, the number of people accessing and configuring on-premise storage can be carefully controlled. Having storage infrastructure located on-site reduces the risk of exposure to malicious entities and means universities don’t have to rely on a third-party to keep their data safe.

“Having storage infrastructure located on-site reduces the risk of exposure to malicious entities and means universities don’t have to rely on a third-party to keep their data safe”

Ultimately, data storage will remain a key focus for university IT teams as the volume and range of data in their care continues to grow. Effective strategies must take every factor – performance, security and cost efficiency – into account. As well as avoiding the latency issues that can arise with public cloud, on-premise object storage can help universities manage growing workloads securely while keeping total cost of ownership under control. This will put them in the best position to continue delivering online education at the highest possible quality.


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