Use of cloud-based services growing on campuses, but at what cost?
- Some institutions are broadening their use of cloud-based applications, but that move can result in hefty costs in manpower and new technology that may not add value in all cases, and experts say such investments should be undertaken strategically, according to Inside Higher Education.
- Many colleges use cloud-based systems in some form, often software as a service (SaaS) such as email, but only a small number have sophisticated, cloud-based infrastructure where major functions such as admissions, human resources or finance are put online.
- One estimate indicates that if a college with 1,000 employees and 6,000 students put three major functions online, it would cost $4,000 to $7,000 per year. Estimates of costs vary widely, but they could reach millions of dollars for a larger institution, experts say.
Advocates says cloud services, where data and applications are stored and operate off-site yet are accessible to users, have several benefits: they’re easier to use and more stable, cheaper and less maintenance-intensive for college IT staff, plus they offer more consistency and are better for disaster recovery.
Critics, however, note there are upfront costs, including installation of new systems, training of staff and adjustments by project management. Integration of new equipment must be planned and is sometimes tricky, resulting in more time, money and effort than colleges may expect. Many suggest return on investment will take years and can be set back as new technology comes along in fast-changing systems, or may never materialize.
Josh Piddington, vice president and chief information officer at Rowan College at Gloucester County in New Jersey, said expenses can be high. “Anything with really data heavy usage, like my security camera infrastructure with 250 cameras – to put that in cloud would cost a lot of money,” he told Inside Higher Education.
There have also been concerns about security with recent disclosures that large online databases have been hacked and information stolen.
Weatherford College in Texas decided last week to move some additional functions to the cloud, finding it was the best value for the college. It is using an Amazon-based service, which offered the best deal, security and size the college wanted, since Weatherford officials said they were seeking a service that “has a lot of resource and technology to constantly reinvest into its product."
Cisco recently reported that cloud computing will replace traditional data centers within four years, handling 95% of total data center traffic by 2021, compared to 88% in 2016.
Another analysis by International Data Corp. reports that cloud computing now accounts for more than a third of all IT spending worldwide. The consulting firm Gartner predicts that half of global enterprises currently using the cloud for some functions will have gone all-in on it by 2021.
Gartner also predicts that spending on cloud services internationally will reach $260 billion this year, up from $219 billion last year, a faster rate of growth than analysts expected.