Higher education’s COVID-fueled journey to cloud transformation

Only a few years ago, digital technology played – at best – a supporting role in higher education. Institutional leaders are now understanding the benefits of cloud when it comes to everything from student success, improved enrolment and sustainability to operational efficiencies, privacy and diversity.

“It’s impossible to talk about education these days without mentioning the global disruption of the education system that the pandemic has brought,” says Carolina Pina, Head of Education, Latin America and Canada, for AWS. “Apart from the negative consequences of COVID-19, we have seen that the pandemic has actually forced universities to accelerate the adoption of digital transformation processes.”

Rapid Review Video: Launching Your First Workload in the Cloud

Pina joined NorthBay’s Chief Technology Officer, Laxmikanth Malladi, and ITWC CIO and Chief Digital Officer Jim Love for an April 20th briefing titled Launching Your First Workload in the Cloud. Talk centered on why academic institutions are adopting cloud, how they are selecting cloud providers, and what the migration journey entails.

Explaining Education’s Move to the Cloud

“Cloud computing might be powering the biggest companies, but it is not exclusive to the domain of large enterprises,” said Love. “Whether business challenges revolve around websites, remote work, student engagement, virtual labs, or building your own applications, the cloud can help educational institutions compete and thrive.”

Pina highlighted some of the main reasons that educational institutions are moving to the cloud, including COVID-19, transformation, student success, and cybersecurity needs related to online learning. “Research attacks are also becoming a major concern for universities, especially those conducting research on behalf of large corporations,” she said. “Institutions doing research related to COVID-19 vaccines have become targets of academic thefts.”

A Compelling Use Case

In making the point that digital transformation is critical to the very survival of universities, Pina shared the example of Athabasca University successfully migrating its entire IT structure to AWS in just six months. “Innovation is another key differentiator,” she said. “Schools want the flexibility to explore and experiment with new systems in a way that is simple and cost adaptive.”

Takeaways from a Typical Journey

Malladi concurred, stressing the attraction of scalability, cost effectiveness, and innovation. Referencing a chart that details a typical migration journey, he described it as a prescriptive approach that applies to everything from moving just one workload to closing an entire data centre. The first step, he said, is establishing the overall process. Once that happens, it’s possible to accelerate the migration.

Both Malladi and Pina pointed to diversity, equity and inclusion as a key focus around the world and in every sector. From an educational technology perspective, this translates to capturing a wealth of information, such as funding available for specific student groups and the capacity of legacy systems to satisfy new requirements for data collection.

Transcribing Lectures in Real Time

Pina shared an example from the University of British Columbia, home to the only AWS Cloud Innovation Center in the country. “This centre is exploring a solution to assist students in synchronous online classes by providing a transcription of lecture in real-time,” she explained. “It’s of benefit to anyone who is unable to participate at the same time, as well as students who need to see course material in written form. When regular classes resume, this solution will continue to provide a consistent experience for all students.”

Mythical Roadblocks

As the webinar drew to a close, the conversation turned to expenses related to disaster recovery. Recognizing the significant cost savings in scalable, pay-as-you-go, cloud-based disaster recovery solutions, Love asked his guests to comment on what’s holding people back from cloud adoption. The answer, according to Pina, is that educational institutions worry about cloud’s ability to secure sensitive data and IT workers worry that they will become redundant. Neither is true, of course, yet both suppositions stand in the way of taking full advantage of everything cloud has to offer.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau is a communications specialist based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where working remotely continues to fuel her passion for new mobile technologies -- especially on snowy days.

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