Compared to other sectors, universities have been much slower to adopt the cloud for their back-end infrastructure and data storage. In 2019, only 36% of UK universities were found to have adopted cloud technologies, despite cloud adoption reaching 88% among UK firms as a whole.
Security is a pressing concern
Security concerns are particularly salient for universities. Data breaches are on the rise, and the average cost of a data breach in the education sector is £3.5m.
Mitigating this risk should be a vital consideration for universities, as they are particularly vulnerable due to their open and ever-changing population of students and professors. Cloud providers are a viable form of protection.
Data needs are evolving
Universities are consuming far more storage space than ever before, but by far one of the world’s largest drivers of the data deluge is university research. With more universities starting to use AI and other analytics tools for various research and educational uses, these data volumes are going to rise and far exceed the capacity for university IT services to handle on their own.
The changing role of university IT depts
Concurrent with the rise in data demands, university IT departments are facing an existential loss of relevance. Since the emergence of Dropbox and similar providers, individual users have increasingly found that they don’t need the IT department. To compete with these new alternatives, they must work with specialist cloud service vendors. A provider like Dropbox is pretty simple, but storing large amounts of data with a cloud storage solution takes some technical expertise, and that’s where IT should come in. For instance, if someone in a lab in the biology department is generating a mountain of genetic data, why should a biologist have to learn how to configure a cloud server?
What does a cost-efficient approach look like?
When dealing with data at the petabyte scale, as universities are increasingly doing, primary storage can quickly eat up the IT budget. With custom-built data storage facilities that take advantage of economies of scale, cloud storage is the most cost-effective option for universities.
Despite this, some universities and academic researchers may be under the false impression that cloud storage is not economical. It’s worth noting that many first-generation cloud providers, like Amazon or Google, don’t merely charge customers based on the amount of data stored, but also impose extra charges on customers who regularly access stored data. This can be particularly problematic for universities, since students and researchers frequently need to read and analyse stored data as part of their work.
Thankfully, there are providers that don’t charge greater fees for accessing their data, or force their customers to plan their storage around convoluted pricing structures.
A future in the cloud
A 2019 survey of enterprise IT professionals found that 68% of British businesses have adopted cloud services for data storage for the myriad benefits it offers in cost, security and flexibility. Universities are lagging behind this organisational trend and the low level of adoption has spurred government interest – in April last year, a DfE report urged educational institutions to “actively consider and evaluate the benefits of moving to a cloud-based approach for their IT system”.
The act of transitioning an organisation’s infrastructure can seem like an added time drain and expense, but it’s definitely time well spent. Smart educators and IT leaders are turning to next-generation cloud solutions and these universities are seeing huge benefits from adopting cloud technologies and the transition needn’t be costly nor complex – it’s time more institutions followed suit.
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