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Migrating Your Server Room to the Cloud

Migrating Your Server Room to the Cloud

Due to the sudden shift toward remote learning, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many institutions’ paths toward digital transformation and cloud adoption. Although in-person learning has resumed, higher education continues to move away from physical server infrastructure and toward cloud services. Let’s discuss everything IT professionals and administrators need to know about the why and how of cloud migration strategies.

Why Move to the Cloud?

At the pandemic’s peak, cloud services allowed higher education institutions to rapidly pivot to a digital learning format. However, the benefits of cloud data migration go beyond Zoom classes and learning management systems (LMS) to streamlining key IT and organizational operations. The many benefits of cloud migration include but aren’t limited to:

  • Business continuity: Cloud services are provided via the internet. Even if your physical infrastructure experiences an outage or other issue, users can still access your cloud services as long as they have a strong internet connection.
  • Cost savings: Due to its scalable nature, the cloud can reduce costs associated with data center utilities and traditional telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Flexibility: Cloud services are highly scalable, which means you can quickly increase or decrease your services as needed to respond to changes in computing demand.
  • Ease of administration: The cloud frees up time to focus on users instead of hardware, which improves the end user experience.
  • Security: Many cloud services provide advanced, automated tools to help discover threats and protect sensitive data. For example, most cloud providers use encryption algorithms to protect data both during transfer and at rest.

Real-World Applications for the Cloud in HEIs

How can the cloud fit into your institution? Here are some real use cases for the cloud in higher education:

  • Video conferencing: Video conferencing applications like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom enabled synchronous remote learning during the pandemic.
  • Learning management systems: Moodle Rooms, Canvas and Blackboard are cloud-based LMSs that allow professors and students to interact with their curricula outside the classroom.
  • Performance reporting: Analytics applications like PowerBI, Google Data Studio and Tableau provide valuable insights for informing key business decisions.
Is Your Institution Cloud-Ready?

Is Your Institution Cloud-Ready?

First, consider whether your organization is ready for this level of change. Cloud migration can impact other ongoing IT projects, so it’s important to understand your preparedness before diving into a full migration project. Make sure to address all of the following concerns:

  • Cloud hosting compatibility: Can you host all of your applications in the cloud? Some applications have licensing restrictions that may limit your cloud options, which can affect your overall cloud migration strategy.
  • Storage requirements: While the cloud is highly scalable, you need to make sure you start with enough space to support your migration.
  • Integration requirements: You need to make sure your applications work together seamlessly to provide an excellent cloud environment.
  • Security requirements: Consider that the cloud can help you remain compliant with the federal, state and local guidelines that apply to your institution.
  • Business continuity: If part or all of your infrastructure goes down, how will you continue to provide computing services to your campus? Outlining this plan in a documented business continuity plan is critical for successful cloud migration.

Key Cloud Migration Steps

The following steps provide a basic outline for beginning a cloud migration initiative:

  1. Create a plan: Before implementing any new service, draft a complete roadmap that includes critical concerns, such as security policies and procedures.
  2. Monitor daily costs: When implemented correctly, the cloud can provide significant cost savings. Establish a daily baseline to shift the focus from your maximum capacity to the space you’ll actually use.
  3. Build trust: Make sure everyone in your institution has the utmost confidence in cloud services because that’s what they’ll use to do their job every day.
  4. Designate responsibilities: Specify a person or team to monitor usage and prevent orphaned services. Change control procedures with clear responsibilities are a necessity for implementing any new service.

Once implementation is complete, stay aware of changes within your cloud environment to reduce costs and maintain high performance. You need to constantly be up to date to ensure you can use all the features you’re paying for.

What Cloud Options Are Available?

Organizations have a wide variety of cloud services they can choose from to build their overall cloud strategy.

First, there are three types of cloud configurations:

  1. Public: A public cloud is owned and operated by a third-party cloud services provider, which provides services over the internet.
  2. Private: A private cloud is used exclusively by the organization that owns it. In this way, it’s similar to an in-house data center or server room.
  3. Hybrid: A hybrid system combines the best of both configurations, so you can mix and match the services you need to create a custom solution.

Within those configurations, there are three types of cloud services you may use:

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Because IaaS services such as AWS Elastic Compute Cloud and Microsoft Azure only host your applications, this type of service provides the most control over your environment.
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS): This type of service provides a platform developers can use to build applications and manage databases. Examples include Heroku, AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS): Most people are familiar with SaaS applications, such as Salesforce CRM, Gmail and Trello. This type of service provides the lowest amount of transparency and control because the provider handles the underlying programming.

Most cloud environments use a combination of all of the above services and configurations, creating a comprehensive solution for their computing needs.

Other Considerations

When you begin planning a server migration to the cloud, consider the following:

  • Existing cloud infrastructure: What cloud services is your institution already using? Evaluate what needs these services fulfill and whether there are any gaps you still need to address.
  • Buy-in: A cloud migration is an institution-wide change. Gaining organizational support and identifying an executive sponsor are key to successful cloud migration.
  • Planning: Do you have a full migration plan? Cloud migration isn’t something you can approach casually. Do your due diligence and create a comprehensive plan before beginning implementation.
  • Big picture: Does the cloud fit within your overall tech strategy? What are your goals? Look for things the cloud can take off your plate.

If your institution needs help creating an effective server-to-cloud migration plan, consider working with an IT consulting service dedicated to the education industry.