Every business needs to embrace the journey to digital transformation, with increasingly complex and powerful technology platforms now spanning human and machine workloads of every discipline. The education business is often thought of as a collection of seats of learning, but it is still an industry in every sense of the word. This core truth has driven education establishments large and small towards new more flexible and connected ways of working.
With the pandemic and its aftermath increasing the need to enable remote working, many education bodies have looked to increase their backend IT functions with the strength, scope and flexibility that an enterprise-grade cloud deployment can provide.
Old-school IT foundations
Education organisations typically start from a ‘first base’ IT stack foundation characterised by the existence of ageing infrastructure, built on legacy storage with blade servers and poorly optimised network design. Sometimes as a result of bolt-on additions and sometimes as a result of poorly conceived future-proofing, these IT stacks suffer from performance degradation, troubleshooting challenges and support handoff issues.
These are technology deployments where integration is poor, manageability is troublesome and scalability is a near impossibility. Alongside human workforce management challenges where IT directors are forced to compromise on repeated occasions, the installed base of equipment itself also faces management challenges – and upgrades are a pain point often delayed or avoided.
These management challenges (both human and machine) stem from the old three-tier structure of servers, plus Storage Area Network (SAN), plus SAN switches (fibre channel), which in real terms represents legacy technology sitting in a still-deployed status.
CapEx vs. cloud-based fractional consumption
Education institutions and organisations have traditionally built and deployed these stacks on the basis of them being future-proofed for five years ahead of the day they first go live. This is prescient in one sense, but in the main, it’s a waste of expenditure and resources.
In any deployment scenario where there’s a strong and concerted effort to spend on what’s hoped to be future-proof CapEx expenditure, there’s an equal and opposite wasted opportunity to buy IT more efficiently in a more cloud-based fractional consumption model that has the ability to grow and shape more strategically and organically.
By moving to a cloud-based fractional consumption model with an on premises cloud platform, the IT function is able to build, change, expand, contract or evacuate and retire nodes from the total IT cluster in a more manageable and cost-effective way. This is as key for a business in oil and gas exploration as it is for a food manufacturer, as it is for an enterprise education business. World markets change, global demand change – and students, faculties, trending study areas and now (in the post-COVID era especially) teaching methods change and remote study is amplified.
By moving to a cloud-based fractional consumption model with an on premises cloud platform, the IT function is able to build, change, expand, contract or evacuate and retire nodes from the total IT cluster in a more manageable and cost-effective way
What all of this means is the enterprise education business of today needs to be highly agile with its technology infrastructure and ability to architect intelligently, to build a platform rather than silos of technology. But this is not an infrastructure story and this is not a technology story in and of itself. It’s all about the platform that we now build and what we are able to do with that technology for higher education (HE) on top. The actual value is all about providing a foundation on which services can be added without the need to change the underlying platform, services enabled by the platform, such as DBaaS (Database as a Service), DaaS (Desktop as a Services) or immutable storage for cybersecurity and research.
Education regeneration across any nation
People often think of education bodies as relatively static entities that don’t play any sort of key role in the dynamism of local economies. It is in fact interesting to know that universities are actually key to economic regeneration inside many world cities.
Think about this fact connected to the number of foreign students that will come into a city to study, coupled with those who, for financial reasons, want to stay at home to study. There can be marked diversity in the patterns of students enrolled in any single institute in any given year; add in the desire for modularity of learning to the changes happening in the post-pandemic period and you can further appreciate the need for the flexibility of this platform approach.
To clarify here, while education institutions will need significant computing power to run on-site study programmes, they will now increasingly need to manage the number of students dialling in remotely from both domestic and international locations. These systems will need to be flexible, performant, robust in terms of uptime and highly cyber-secure.
Life is good, on-campus and online
What all of this discussion comes back to is the quality of the study experience and the quality of student life at a wider level. Where a university prospectus at the turn of the millennium would highlight study resources and life experience factors such as social and leisure opportunities, the university prospectus of tomorrow will now devote more page space to its technology proposition, a measure of connectedness that may even include an image of their friendly neighbourhood chief technology officer.
A powerful and flexible multi-cloud platform is important for the contemporary education organisation as it enables, if you choose the right platform, for the IT function to be as self-service as possible. This is all about the simplicity of the platform and the ability to manage everything as a single stack and leverage increasing amounts of automation across the software application lifecycle.
A powerful and flexible multi-cloud platform is important for the contemporary education organisation as it enables, if you choose the right platform, for the IT function to be as self-service as possible
Some institutions will receive a certain amount of funding from private organisations and government in order to carry out research. This is an injection that can form a major part of their revenue stream. Long-term data storage is crucially important for these types of education organisations, especially where medical research is carried out and where the need for strong immutable storage is paramount. Providing self-service of databases, compute and all types of data storage to researchers, avoids the curse of shadow IT, delivers a better service and minimises the overhead for the IT team. In a world where there’s a first mover advantage in the research space, implementing the right platform can be hugely impactful.
A smarter, more diverse future
What we perhaps all hope for collectively is a smarter future, obviously, but also a brighter, more diverse and more fulfilled future where people from all backgrounds gain access to education opportunities regardless of many of the barriers that might have existed a couple of decades ago. This modular, location independent capability removes many of these barriers, opening up opportunities for people who would otherwise have struggled.
Universities, schools, colleges and all places of learning can now offer a broader set of learning programmes to a broader range of people from a wider number of geographical locations. As race, gender and neural diversity become increasingly less divisive factors, we can also democratise learning around the planet and inspire keen minds to develop and expand further.
The future is smarter and this is no case of daydreaming – the future is only smarter if we build a global education industry that really does have its head in the clouds.
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