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  • 06/08/2013 Cloud Computing in Higher Education | Britto | Library Student Journal 1/11



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    Home > 2012 > Britto

    Cloud Computing in Higher Education

    Marwin Britto

    University of WisconsinMilwaukee

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

    Library Student Journal,

    January 2012

    A bstr a ct

    With significant budget cuts in higher education coupled with growing demand for information technology (IT) services,

    institutions are quickly considering and adopting cloud computing strategies to meet their needs. Although there are still

    challenges with the cloud computing model, the potential benefits appear to greatly outweigh the risks. These changes also

    necessitate a new type of IT leadership and IT workforce. As this model matures and the risks are mitigated, it is expected

    that greater numbers of institutions will implement and scale cloud computing services more extensively as an alternative to

    current IT practices and services. This paper describes the reasons for the rise of cloud computing in higher education, its

    evolving definition and models, examples of cloud computing in higher education today and its potential in the future.

    In tr odu ct ion

    Institutions of higher education, in the United States and globally, are in the midst of historic times. In the U.S., the deep

    recession and depleted budget reserves have contributed to a diminishing tax base resulting in drastic budget cuts to state-

    funded and state-assisted universities and colleges. Endowments at private and public institutions of higher education in the

    U.S., typically relied on as a source of relief during financially troubling times, have experienced losses not seen since the

    Great Depression (Lewin, 2010). To backfill the deficit and in the climate of unprecedented budget cuts, institutions of higher

    education are invoking mass layoffs, steep tuition hikes, department closures, mandatory furloughs, and early retirements;

    even the threat of closures of university and college systems looms, as evidenced by events in July 2011 that threatened to

    shutter the entire Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (Budig, 2011). In 2011, it was reported that 43 states in

    the U.S. had imposed funding cuts to higher education in the coming budget cycle (Johnson et al., 2011). Consequently, 2011

    fiscal budgets for U.S. universities and colleges appear much worse than the previous biennial, and sadly, it seems that there

    is no promise of reprieve in the foreseeable future.

    To address their financial shortfall during this economic downtown, institutions of higher education have resorted to a variety

    of cost-cutting measures, including significant cuts to information technology (IT) budgets. For example, for the 2009-2010

    academic year, 50 % of IT leaders at universities and colleges in the U.S. reported decreased funding in their IT budgets over

    the previous year (Green, 2009). To compound the problem, the purchasing power of these IT dollars has decreased; IT costs

    have increased at a faster rate than the rate of inflation (Golden, 2009).

    IT areas are perceived as significant cost centers, and for many administrators, despite the institutions reliance on

    technology in every aspect of its operation, it is difficult to accurately calculate the return-on-investment (ROI) from the

    cost of information technology; similarly, it is challenging to attribute the benefits of technology directly to the institutions

    international peer reviewed

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    vision, mission and goals. This lack of a transparent ROI has contributed to bigger cuts in the IT budgets than many other

    areas on campus. The Campus Computing Project (Green, 2010), which annually surveys IT leaders at institutions of higher

    education in the U.S. regarding critical issues in IT, reported that 42 % of colleges and universities experienced a budget cut

    in their IT centralized services for the 2010-2011 academic year. (As indicated earlier, 50 % had already taken cuts to their

    budgets the previous year.) Yet, in sharp contrast to this decrease in availability funding for IT services and support, the

    demand and expectations for IT services and resources on college and university campuses from students, staff and faculty

    are at an all-time high. These increasing expectations have been ushered in largely by the growth of a new breed of incoming


    These students, known as digital natives (Prensky, 2001), the Net Generation, Generation Y, or even Millennials, have not

    known a world without the Internet (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005). Through programs such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and

    Flickr, students already are well versed and frequent consumers of cloud-based technologies (Ercan, 2010). Accordingly, they

    expect to have 24/7 access to digital technologies in their educational environment, including cloud technologies which

    support social media. In addition, research has demonstrated that cloud-based solutions can be very effective in supporting

    collaborative and cooperative learning as well as other socially oriented theories of teaching and learning (Thorsteinsson et

    al., 2010). With the opportunity to facilitate these student needs, coupled with the cost-savings, administrators are asking

    leaders to provision the necessary training, support and resources to implement and support these cloud-based strategies.

    The age of doing more with less has been described as the new normal in higher education (Duncan, 2010; Durso, 2011;

    Sharma, 2011). With escalating expectations for IT resources and services yet diminished funding, doing more with less has

    been on the radar in IT for some time (Green, 2003). For example, to address the topic of doing more with less, in 2004

    EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association concerned with information technology in higher education, assembled and interviewed an

    expert panel of eight CIOs and VPs of IT at higher education institutions in the U.S. and published their results in the article,

    Doing More with Less: Obstacle or Opportunity for IT? (Goldstein et al., 2004). It is interesting to note that cloud-

    computing was not seen as a viable strategy or solution at the time. A review of current IT conference programs (e.g.

    EDUCAUSE, Campus Technology), IT listservs, and journals in IT (e.g. CIO, Journal of Information Technology, Campus

    Technology, Journal of Information Technology in Education) demonstrated the persistence of this theme of doing more with


    In the past few years the concept of cloud computing has emerged as a viable and promising solution to the challenges

    associated with shrinking IT budgets and escalating IT needs. Journals (e.g. Cloud Computing Journal), conferences (e.g.

    Cloud Computing Expo), listservs, consulting firms, and service providers dedicated to cloud computing services and

    strategies have sprung up virtually overnight; this increasing exposure and media attention and the promise to address IT

    budget shortfalls together have created a tremendous buzz and further escalated discussions, interest and evolution in this

    area. EDUCAUSE has created a dedicated cloud computing area on its website, which includes sections on related publications,

    presentations, podcasts, blogs, newsfeeds, and information on the basics of cloud computing, decision-making and

    implementation (EDUCAUSE, 2011b).

    Despite this proliferation of cloud computing resources and interest in such resources, for some IT leaders and institutional

    administrators, the jury is still out. Some claim there is too much hype and not enough substance nor adequate research and

    convincing case studies to fully commit resources and funding to move in this direction; others are concerned about the

    security and data protection risks (Mircea & Andreescu, 2010). In addition, a commitment to this model fundamentally and

    radically changes the modus operandi of IT groups on college and university campuses, their power and influence, and their

    function and perception of value within the institution, which consequently would have serious implications for personnel and

    allocation of resources in these areas. There are other worthy concerns which warrant greater examination of the

    implications of cloud computing in higher education; these concerns are the focus of this paper.

    This paper will provide an overview of cloud computing in higher education. The intent is to first familiarize those unfamiliar

    with the concept with its definitions, its defining characteristics, its service and deployment models and examples of

    institutions currently employing this model. These initial areas regarding cloud computing are provided as background

    information and context to then help frame discussions. These discussions include its potential as a sourcing alternative, its

    current implications, examples in higher education, and the changing IT leadership and IT workforce needed to successfully

    manage this concept. Lastly, the final section offers a reflection on the future implications and role of cloud computing in

    higher education.

    Defin in g Clou d Com pu tin g

    In early 2009, McKinsey & Company reported that there were 22 distinct definitions of cloud computing in existence. The

    surge of interest in cloud computing in the last two years has undoubtedly increased this list. In addition, one of the

    challenges is the evolving and expanding nature of the cloud computing concept, which will propagate new definitions over

    time and make it difficult to pinpoint a single definition. McKinsey & Company (2009) define cloud computing as hardware-

    based services offering computing, network, and storage capacity where the management of hardware is highly abstracted

    from the buyers, buyers incur variable infrastructure costs, and infrastructure capacity is highly elastic. Any reference

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    the Internet, a basic premise of cloud computing, is curiously missing. However, the term network does infer a connection

    and the avoidance of the word Internet might have been intentionally chosen due to private clouds. Gartner Research takes

    a broader approach, defining cloud computing as an alternative delivery and acquisition model for IT-related services and

    ...a style of computing where massively scalable IT-enabled capabilities are delivered 'as a service' to external customers

    using Internet technologies (Plummer et al., 2008, p. 3). This definition is quite general and avoids the specific service model

    types which are important attributes of this concept. CDW-G, a technology solutions provider for government agencies and

    higher education institutions, offers a simple yet thorough definition of cloud computing as a model for enabling convenient,

    on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and

    services) that can be rapidly provisioned (2011, p. 1).

    It appears that CDW-G adapted this definition from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST, under the

    U.S. Department of Commerce, defines and describes cloud computing as a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-

    demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications,

    and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction

    (Mell & Grance, 2011, p. 2). This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three

    service models, and four deployment models (Mell & Grance, 2011). Despite varying definitions of the term cloud computing,

    there appears to be consistency and general consensus in the literature on the general characteristics, service models and

    deployment models described by NIST. Since these characteristics and models are useful to understand the context within

    higher education, they are described briefly in the next three sections.

    Fiv e Essen tia l Ch a r a cter ist ics of Clou d Com pu tin g

    The following five characteristics, as defined by NIST, are considered inherent in cloud computing services (Mell & Grance,


    On-Demand Self-Service: Customers can automatically provision computing capabilities and resources on their own when

    needed without necessitating any human intervention.

    Broad Network Access: Access and capabilities are available over the network through standard devices, such as cell

    phones, laptops, PDAs, etc.

    Resource Pooling: Resources such as network bandwidth, virtual machines, memory, processing power, storage

    capacity, etc. are pooled together to serve multiple customers using a multi-tenant model. That is, virtual and physical

    resources are dynamically assigned and reassigned based on need and customers demands.

    Rapid Elasticity: Depending on demand, resources and capabilities can be quickly and automatically deployed and scaled

    at any quantity and at any time.

    Measured Service: Customer usage of the vendors resources and services are automatically monitored, controlled and

    reported offering a high level of transparency for the customer and vendor.

    It is interesting to note that some vendors claim cloud computing as a service, but fail to include one or more of the

    characteristics listed above. For example, cloud computing vendors which fail to provide transparency (e.g. a detailed report

    of consumption per service) of your services consumed are not offering true cloud computing services.

    Ser v ice Models

    NIST (Mell & Grance, 2011) also describes three service models:

    Cloud Software as a Service;

    Cloud Platform as a Service; and

    Cloud Infrastructure as a Service.

    The differentiators among these three service models are the nature of the service and the level of customer-vendor control

    and engagement. Furthermore, it should be noted that these models are not mutually exclusive; organizations can and do

    employ different cloud service models on varying scales for different departments within the organization based on specific


    Cloud software as a service (SaaS): The vendor provides, manages and controls the underlying cloud infrastructure, including

    individual applications, network, storage, servers, operating systems, etc. The customer is able to fully access the vendors

    applications in the cloud via a variety of devices (e.g. cell phone, laptop, PDA). SaaS examples include, and


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