Cloud computing in institutions – non core business or critical data?

I attended a workshop organised by the JISC-funded projectReview of the Environmental and Organisational Implications of Cloud Computing in Higher and Further Education in Birmingham to explore the future scenarios for usage of Cloud Computing in HE and FE recently. A range of experts from the sector were invited to discuss the potential applications of cloud computing in institutions, type of organisational services, structures and strategies that might be needed to make effective use of this emerging service model. The participants were divided into two groups: institutions and cloud providers and five activities were specifically designed to facilitate the discussions.

I was involved in the institution group with a good mixture of people including senior managers of universities, directors of IT service, IT consultants and legal consultants etc. Several main points arose from our discussion:

1. Cloud computing is likely to be adopted by institutions in the following areas: 1) email, office applications and basic data storage, 2) infrastructure (operational systems); 3) Large scale data storage (Achieve, library);4) VLE, etc. Clearly, those are non core business or business critical to institutions are most likely to use cloud computing services. More complex, more customised data would be more difficult to move to cloud.

2. Security and privacy are two of institutions’ top concerns when considering moving to the cloud. For example, if an institution stores records of students in a cloud, what guarantees can be made about the security? Institutions will expect that the cloud provider will prevent unauthorized access to the information and sensitive data will remain private.

3. Cost savings is one of the main drivers for institutions to move to the cloud computing. However, it is still a question whether cloud computing will reduce the overall IT cost of the university. For example, if an institution has decided to move staff emails to a cloud provider, there may still be some staff, e.g. those involved in military and some commercial organisations, who are unwilling to correspond via cloud-based email. The institution will therefore have to keep the email service for those staff. In this case, it would be arguable whether it is cost effective to maintain the staff email services through both institutional and cloud providers.

4. Private cloud, regional cloud or academic cloud facilities could be appropriate for institutions to explore cloud computing services at the present. It is also suggested that institutional consortia might be a good way to reduce the cost of cloud computing services through negotiating with cloud providers.

5. There is a need for a holistic approach towards institutions’ IT strategies in response to cloud computing applications, such as revising IT policies, changes in management structures, etc. For instance, institutions may need to develop a specific policy for cloud computing provisions; IT Manager will need to manage contracts and monitor Service Level Agreements with external suppliers and the role and skills of the IT staff will need to change too.

More information about the workshop and the project are available at We also have updated and published the CETIS Cloud computing briefing paper recently and which is available here .