What’s stopping UK education leaders moving to the cloud?

As cloud spend in UK education is tipped to hit £125m by 2020/21, what are the reasons some leaders might not be quite so quick to jump on the adoption curve?

The most commonly cited barriers to cloud adoption in UK education are financial factors, culture, skills shortages and security concerns. [1],[2] Ironically, one of the financial barriers is that of the CAPEX-OPEX dilemma, where institutions can often struggle to shift to an OPEX model due to the legacy of CAPEX systems. Others may point at a culmination of uncertainty over future costs. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) statements will help allay fears, as will confirmation of how vendors of cloud services will handle egress charges* associated with institutions removing data from the environment. These types of conversation should occur early on in the dialogue between education institutions and the vendor in order to bring clarity to the cost of migration and optimisation.

*Egress charges are the costs organisations pay to move data from the cloud to another area and vary by provider. Typically, egress charges are billed monthly in a tiered structure, meaning that the more a customer transfers data into and out of the cloud, the lower the per GB price.

Security concerns are likely to be an ever-present barrier to a certain degree, as institutions continue to hold vast amounts of personal data on their students. Higher Education institutions also must consider how cloud impacts their research data in terms of how it is shared. The education sector will be reassured by the successful cloud migration of public sector bodies such as government departments, local authorities, NHS, and HMRC, all of which have overcome the fears surrounding holding vast amounts of customer data in the cloud. For now, IT Professionals need to work with vendors to allay the concerns, but they should also take note of the security guarantees offered by cloud management organisations which compare favourably to most in-house teams supporting an on-premise application. In fact, research by Alert Logic has revealed that on-premise workloads are causing more serious security incidents than cloud-hosted applications, with those using exclusively on-premise architecture subject to over 50% more incidents than those using public cloud services. At the same time the number of viable solutions is on the increase with cloud-ready student information systems and cloud native applications now available and established.

Migrating systems to the cloud requires an evolved skillset, working “higher up the stack”, potentially in a hybrid situation with some solutions hosted in the cloud and other onsite. This inevitably moves many out of their comfort zone, but equally affords IT staff the opportunity to operate at a more strategic level. In turn, their value to the business increases as the IT infrastructure delivers greater efficiencies and IT staff are more able to inform and effect innovation and strategic improvement of services. IT departments will need to keep up with the new technologies and the speed of cloud change. In turn, IT decision makers will have to address the issue of keeping their staff’s skills relevant while establishing at what point expertise is better and more cost effectively delivered from external partners.

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[1] JISC, 2015
[2] University of York, 2017