For organisations all over the world, the cloud is now a reality, and the benefits are well recognised. In the education sector, where IT resources are often limited, cloud services allow institutions to focus on what they do best—teaching and learning—rather than on managing their IT.
So, as costs go down and advancements in security and functionality increase, the question for educators now is not ‘if’ they use the cloud but ‘how’. But first, you need to understand the differences between services that are built for the cloud (cloud-native) as opposed to managed services (products that are simply hosted in the cloud).
You should also know about public, private and hybrid clouds, as well as ‘cloud washing’—the attempt by many vendors to rebrand an old product or service by attaching ‘cloud’ as a buzzword. To help you speak the language of cloud, so you can engage in critical discussions about the future of technology at your institution, here’s an explanation of the alphabet soup that surrounds cloud computing offerings.
As-a-service acronyms can be confusing. Here’s the rundown:
-Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Software hosted and maintained by the vendor and delivered over the internet via subscription
-Infrastructure-as-as-Service (IaaS): Hardware, including servers, storage and networks, owned and managed by the vendor and made accessible to customers on demand via the internet
Platform-as-as-Service (PaaS): Operating system/middleware hosted by the vendor on which customers can develop and manage their applications over the internet
In cloud computing, you’ll hear about SaaS most. Sometimes referred to as ‘on-demand software’, SaaS is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are hosted on the cloud. SaaS is typically accessed via a web browser and is paid on a subscription basis, monthly or yearly as required.
The user doesn’t manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, storage or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.
You do give up some control with this model, but the tradeoff is worth it. By effectively outsourcing your hardware and software you can scale resources up and down as needed, leverage technical expertise, access innovation more quickly, and efficiently focus on your core mission: teaching.
In this model, the hardware—servers, storage, computing power—is owned and operated by your cloud provider and shared by multiple customers. This shared infrastructure enables customers to take a lower-cost, pay-as-you-go approach to managing IT services. Most as-a-service technology is provided through a public cloud.
The public cloud offers different set-up arrangements:
-Single-tenant: Each customer has their own instance of a software application and their own database.
-Multi-tenant: Multiple customers share the same instance of the software application and database. The instance is typically divided to prevent companies from accessing each other’s data.
Private cloud (hosting)
Private cloud is a type of cloud computing that delivers similar advantages to public cloud, including scalability and self-service, but through a proprietary architecture. Unlike public clouds, which deliver services to multiple organisations, a private cloud is dedicated to a single organisation.
With this model, you get the main benefits of cloud—agility, mobility, security—but also greater control over upgrades, governance and customisations.
This is the way most of higher education is going right now. With a hybrid approach, you take advantage of cloud where it makes sense for your business (either SaaS or private cloud), while also keeping certain solutions on premise (either indefinitely or while you prepare for additional moves to the cloud).
For us, cloud native, is not merely a buzzword; it’s how you know whether a programme has been designed specifically for a cloud computing architecture; or simply has cloud features. And in short, whether it can take full advantage of the benefits the cloud offers.
The big draws of being cloud native include auto-provisioning: automatically provisioning environments as your needs grow, auto-scaling: tracking the various components of your application and releasing and pulling resources automatically where appropriate - and auto-redundancy. Cloud-native apps and services are inherently resilient to failure. In the event of an issue, app processing instantly moves to another server or data center automatically and seamlessly.
Another key benefit to cloud native solutions lies in agility. For a constant price, customers get quicker access to new capabilities - and can easily expand usage to other users, groups and organisations.
So, once you’ve mastered all the jargon, it’s time to have a meaningful conversation about cloud—and, first and foremost, how different models can best advance your institution’s strategic goals.
Of course, every cloud option has its pros and cons. Depending on your specific needs, the size of your environment, and your budget, it’s essential to weigh all cloud (and even on-premise) options. For us, though, a public cloud environment, shared among multiple users, leverages technology and democratises high-end computing in a way that managed services just can’t.
And while the big ‘safe’ organisations associated with managed services may have kick-started the edtech market, it’s nimble and innovative companies like Instructure who are now redefining it—introducing a more flexible, reliable, scalable and user-friendly alternative—that better meets institutions' and users’ changing objectives and needs.
EMEA Solutions Engineering Director, Instructure