There is a "compelling case for using the cloud for research", Jisc's Innovation Director for digital infrastructure argued last week.
Speaking at an 'inside government' forum on cloud in the public sector, Rachel Bruce said: "It's clear that universities need the right infrastructure for the right job, and hybrid infrastructure with local and public provision is required. But investment in the cloud is often driven by cost - so cloud computing is a particularly attractive option for smaller institutions who can't afford to replace their physical hardware to do the same job."
Rachel highlighted some of the reasons that universities are increasingly looking to use the cloud for their research services.
Cloud is attractive because it can help universities and similar organisations:
1. Reduce environmental and financial costs - where functions are only needed for short periods, for example
2. Share the load - when a university is working with a partner organisation so that neither organisation need develop or maintain a physical infrastructure
3. Be flexible and pay as you go - researchers may need to use specialized web-based software that cannot be supported by in-house facilities or policies
4. Access data centres, web applications and services from any location
5. Make experiments more repeatable - write-ups of science experiments performed in the cloud can contain reference to cloud applications like a virtual machine, making the experiment easier to replicate
Jisc committee member and Pro Vice Chancellor of Roehampton University, Chris Cobb, also addressed an Eduserv symposium last week on shared services.
He said: "With the universal drive for efficiencies, shared services has become even more topical. The key though is to examine opportunities at a process level and not as whole systems or organisational units. Jisc is undertaking valuable work in supporting institutions in improved understanding of their processes and the relationship of processes to systems and physical infrastructure.
"Through this, institutions are better placed to take advantage of services orientated architecture, 'software as a service' and cloud based technologies to increase resilience and reduce costs. With cultural barriers to shared services now dissipating, the time is right to consider shared services more strategically and not just opportunistically as has been the case so far."
Jisc is currently doing work to help organisations better understand the costs of a cloud infrastructure and help them make decisions about how the cloud might fit their business models.
Jisc is currently working to deliver part of the Universities Modernisation Fund, a £12.5 million HEFCE fund that aims to help universities and colleges deliver better efficiency and value for money through shared services.
Jisc is contributing funding to eleven pilot projects with the Engineering and Physical Sciences research council (EPSRC) to explore and develop new cloud computing technologies for research.
Jisc is also helping over 40 UK universities and colleges navigate through the steps needed to improve their IT service delivery for students and staff including evaluating the possibilities for cloud computing.