SURF (2011), the equivalent to Jisc in the Netherlands, has identified the following benefits to cloud approaches:
- Using cloud services makes it possible to provide high quality ICT services that meet the requirements of students, instructors, researchers, and other staff. The institutions can also keep pace – more than is currently the case – with those requirements and make use of the range available: rapid adoption and availability of new facilities
- The cloud makes it possible to provide services ‘at any time’, ‘at any place’, and – increasingly important – ‘on any device’
- Cloud services produced a significant increase in flexibility, accompanied by cost reduction/control
- If applied effectively, cloud services can make a significant contribution to reducing energy consumption and therefore to achieving the sustainability goals that the institutions have set for themselves.’
Surveys conducted in 2008/9 and 2010 (MacDonald et al 2010) suggest that in UK FE and HE there is considerable interest in cloud services but the rate of adoption is still generally low. Given that the surveys were conducted during a period of economic downturn, it is notable that the main driver for cloud adoption (cited by 8 out of 10 cloud users in the 2010 survey) was still provision of a better service (as opposed to 6 out of 10 respondents who cited cost as the main driver).
The ability to deliver on any of the potential benefits will vary according to the institution (with small to medium-sized institutions having more to gain from the economies of scale) and according to the type of business function being carried out in the cloud.
It is clear that cloud computing is here to stay and that the education sector must find ways of exploiting the opportunities it offers. In order to exploit those opportunities most effectively, it is, however, necessary to understand the risks and costs of cloud computing.