Why Hybrid Cloud Holds The Key To Transforming The Higher Education Sector

Scott Auld, Sales Manager at Daisy Corporate Services (pictured below, right) shares his insight on how hybrid cloud is key to successful digital transformation in the education sector.

The UK’s higher education sector has long been one of the country’s secret weapons. Nearly three million students are studying at British universities, strengthening the UK’s soft power, delivering world-leading research and contributing over £50bn annually to GDP. But it’s also an industry in transition. After the pandemic forced major changes to teaching practices, the sector had to rapidly accelerate digital transformation efforts. Those efforts continue to this day.

As IT leaders in the sector consider their options, they should focus first on delivering the hybrid cloud environments on which seamless, cost-effective learning experiences can be built.

Why cloud?

The UK’s higher education institutions just about weathered the pandemic. And yet today they face another crisis, driven by rampant inflation and stagnating staff pay. Amidst this financial uncertainty, any proposed technology investment must be carefully calibrated to deliver both cost efficiency and improved teaching/learning outcomes.

Hybrid cloud deployments are a popular option because they’re capable of offering the best of both worlds. That is, use of highly scalable, cost-effective public cloud infrastructure such as Azure or AWS for certain workloads, plus private hosted environments for others that are more data intensive, CPU-heavy or require stricter security controls. The sector may be traditionally reliant on large CapEx-centric deals for buying and managing servers in-house, but the agility that institutions get from transitioning to “as a service” models is a big draw. Globally, the market for cloud computing in higher education is set to grow at a CAGR of 22%, to reach a predicted $15bn by 2030.

Hybrid infrastructure allows the build of applications and experiences which differentiate a higher education institution—offering hybrid learning and collaboration tools, student progress monitoring, and connectivity everywhere. By using WiFi 6 technology, university IT teams will not only help to streamline the flow of data from the cloud to staff and student devices, but also support  an increasing number of IoT devices on campus – handling everything from smart ID badges to air-conditioning systems.

Securing everything

Building these integrated digital experiences is one thing. But doing so in a secure and compliant manner requires an extra layer of planning. Some 86% of higher education IT professionals feel that cybersecurity is a strategic priority for senior managers, with ransomware branded the number one threat. Incidents can cost over £2m to resolve.

The complex, highly distributed nature of higher education IT environments makes zero trust an obvious approach. It focuses on continuous authentication of users and devices, rigorous segmenting and monitoring of networks, and other security controls at the endpoint, cloud and network layers. At a time when in-house IT security skills are increasingly difficult to come by, partnering with third-party experts also makes sense here. They can advise which blend of technologies – from multi-factor authentication (MFA) and endpoint security to SD-WAN and network detection and response (NDR) – will be the best fit to accelerate zero trust.

There are no easy solutions here. But with secure foundations in place, IT leaders can begin to build the connected digital experiences students and staff are demanding. But to get there, universities and colleges must first “plumb in” their secure hybrid cloud infrastructure.

This article was originally published in Public Sector Focus magazine November/December 2022 edition