Efficient education

The implementation of cloud and virtualisation technologies at campuses region wide is improving efficiency, reducing costs and allowing students to gain access to a better learning environment, according to regional cloud and virtualisation experts.

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Efficient education
By  Georgina Enzer Published  February 6, 2013

The implementation of cloud and virtualisation technologies at campuses region wide is improving efficiency, reducing costs and allowing students to gain access to a better learning environment, according to regional cloud and virtualisation experts.

In the education vertical there are two moments in the school calendar that place a huge amount of stress on the campus network; registration and exams. Universities and education institutes across the region have long been battling with how to deal with this surge in need for network capacity without spending huge amounts of money on hardware that is redundant for the rest of the year. Many are increasingly seeing the benefits of turning to cloud and virtualisation to help build a more flexible network infrastructure and reduce soaring infrastructure network costs.

The key to preparing for surges in network traffic and making sure the network has the capacity to tackle surges is to do your homework well in advance. Given that campuses run on schedules with known variables such as normal (regular days during the academic year) and busy (exams, new registrations) periods of network activity, and the number of students and faculty members, the IT staff can tailor the network to service the institute’s needs.

Cloud and virtualisation also have an application in e-learning, several e-learning portals today use cloud infrastructures to deliver educational content and testing to their student community, according to Sid Deshpande, senior analyst at Gartner.

“In the Middle East there have been some recent examples of virtualisation, cloud and unified communications coming together to deliver infrastructure for a women’s university that needed high speed networking and unified communications to enable teachers to deliver sessions remotely. Campuses can look to use public cloud for certain applications e.g. registrations, in order to save costs, while keeping more critical functions in house on a private cloud,” he said.

Cloud and virtualisation also allows a more accessible teaching environment where students from all over the world can be educated rather than having to physically attend lectures, according to Dr Steve Turner, VP of Optimisation at independent IT consultancy and professional services firm, Intergence.

“There are fewer overheads placed on the central IT services of the educational establishment, as course material and other supporting services are provided to students through a remotely hosted environment,” he says.

Jeremy Foster, head of Marketing and Government and Industry Relations, Middle East and Africa at network specialists Ericsson says that in order to meet the IT requirements of the enormous annual network demand during exams or registration, education institutions had to get so much equipment that over the year they only had a 7% asset utilisation to cope so they did not crash in those two critical times.

“If there was a really clear driver for cloud computing in education, those peaks make it really easy to find out about the cloud options for that. When it comes to cloud there are a few terms which are coming out, there is private, cloud public cloud, hybrid cloud and cloud bursting,” he says.

Cloud bursting:
Cloud bursting is where a network temporarily co-opts extra external resources and expands the network capacity. For the education sector, this solution is ideal for those very busy times of the year.

“For those two peaks of registration and exam time – a campus can open a hole in their firewall and lasso the external physical resources. People can not tell the difference because the servers are virtualised, so they do not behave any differently, but is a lot faster,” explains Foster. “A week or two before the big strain comes I now have enormous capacity, the strain hits and I am now allocating my storage and processing no my new infrastructure and the external infrastructure. Once I do not need it any more, I can shut my firewall off and chug on with what I need for another year.”

Cloud bursting represents a huge saving on hardware and expertise, as well as electricity for education facilities and is one of the fundamental drivers around cloud. It also prevents the underutilisation of assets; no company can afford to have network capacity sitting around doing nothing.

Education campuses in the region are mostly implementing private cloud which gives them the ability to have the flexibility, as they need to go and provide resources to their server applications dynamically. It also gives you stability if have clean servers because they can just create a new server, even though it is a virtual one.

If the company wants to test different apps they can provide discreet environments to test them in on the private cloud.

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