Colleges and universities around the globe are beginning the new academic year facing more uncertainty than ever. The global pandemic has made it virtually impossible to know how many students are returning to campuses this fall (if they’re even allowed) and how many will rely on remote learning exclusively or opt for some kind of hybrid model.
Compounding the challenge for higher education, this new status quo is fragile and could change in an instant. Thus it is critical to colleges and universities that their IT infrastructures are flexible and resilient enough to meet the needs of students and educators – whether they’re in the classroom or connected remotely from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Those needs include not just the ability to remotely access higher-education resources such as classes or administrative, educational, and financial services, but a quality experience. At large universities with tens of thousands of students and multiple separate colleges – all of which have their own specific educational and access requirements – this can be an overwhelming task, especially when it has to happen now, in real time, and with financial and technological constraints.
How can you use technology to enable remote students taking lab classes to capture some of the experience of an in-person lab? How can you provide access to statistical or architectural software? And do you have a plan and the ability to scale access as needed if your institution of higher education has to abruptly cancel all physical classes and close administrative offices?
Ensuring the necessary flexibility and scalability requires institutions of higher learning to pursue a multi-cloud IT infrastructure strategy that can support the new remote environment while cutting costs and providing freedom to run, manage, connect, and secure applications across clouds and devices in a common operating environment.
Colleges and universities always have had to plan for surges in demand for network access services, says Dan Mroz, a cloud strategist at Dell Technologies who worked for nearly eight years as director of IT at Pennsylvania State University.
“We had registration every spring and fall semester, so we would have to spin up resources or make capital expenditures to ensure we could provide the needed services,” Mroz says. “All to maintain a level of access for demand we’d see only twice a year. Well, that was expensive.”
A multi-cloud infrastructure, along with a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) platform and automation, allows higher-education organizations to cost-effectively offer services and experiences for students no matter where they are located, and to deliver a high-quality end-user experience regardless of spikes in resource demand.
By utilizing the optimal combination of public and private clouds, as well as edge computing, colleges and universities can locate applications and services where they are most accessible to authorized end users, while also scaling up and down as needed while saving money.
An effective multi-cloud strategy goes far beyond choice of technology, Mroz says.
“People don’t realize that success in the cloud requires a skillset and changes to the culture of an organization,” he says. “Seventy percent of cloud projects fail because the IT decision makers don’t fully anticipate what needs to change.”
The reality facing institutions of higher education in six months may be dramatically different than the one they’re grappling with now. A multi-cloud strategy gives colleges and universities a powerful framework for dealing effectively with disruption and crises.