University officials taking a multipronged approach to cloud computing recommend the following lessons learned to other colleges considering a similar path.
- Communicate: IT executives need to fully explain to all stakeholders how various cloud offerings work, why the university is using them, and how the cloud will benefit end users and the overall educational mission. Middle Tennessee State University officials made it a point to speak directly to IT personnel and end users, routinely sent e-mail updates and established a project website. The site included an online "rumor mill" application so officials could correct any misinformation. "Just because you say it doesn't mean it gets heard," says Bruce Petryshak, CIO at MTSU. "So we've used many, many avenues to get the word out."
- Start small: MTSU started its virtual desktop service with a proof of concept and a small pilot to work out any kinks and illustrate benefits before deploying it campuswide.
- Adjust your style: With the cloud, IT officials must manage based on contracts, compliance and audits, so colleges need to evaluate potential cloud partners very deliberately, and prepare IT personnel for this new reality.
"The trouble with the cloud is you only have a limited view behind the curtain, so to speak, of what they're going to be doing once the contract is under way," says Gabriel Youtsey, IT project manager at UC Davis. "So your relationship will be built solely on trust and on the contract terms that you work out ahead of time."
- Take a seat at the table: The IT department — not just university procurement authorities and attorneys — needs to be front and center on any contract negotiation for public- or hybrid-cloud services, says Paul Grieggs, technical services manager at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Another important issue is an exit strategy. "Traditionally, the IT shop would build the security and the service levels; now, they're buying security and service levels," Grieggs explains. "The attorneys don't know anything about, for instance, getting data normalized so you can recover it after the service ends. So IT needs to be right in the middle of all of that."
- Expand your cost analysis: Traditionally, an IT project's cost equaled the sum of its implementation and operational expenses. But a cloud project also needs to take into consideration what it will cost if the IT department needs to pull it back in-house for any reason, explains Brian D. Voss, CIO for the University of Maryland. The analysis is particularly helpful if the cloud service experiences technical problems. "Having the analysis helps the community understand what it will really cost to pull out of the arrangement, and that makes it easier for you to make the case that it's worth giving it some time and struggling through some of the growing pains," Voss explains.