No matter how you look at it, the cloud is changing the way we work. Sharing, collaboration, and easy access to stored files make cloud systems an obvious fit for many businesses. Another area where all these improvements matter is education, and the higher education cloud market is seeing tremendous growth.

According to a new report released by MeriTalk, the size of the cloud market in higher education has reached $4.4 billion. The report also noted that half of the higher education IT executives surveyed said that the cloud was essential to keeping their institutions competitive; and more than one third of those surveyed are confident that the cloud will increase student retention, a problem for many universities.

“IT can help transform and evolve the student learning experience,” said Tim Merrigan, Vice President of State/Local/Education, VMware. “Institutions must eliminate silos, increase agility, and effectively support varied educational missions – including compute-intensive R&D and online course offerings. Cloud and software-defined environments are the keys to getting them there – quickly, easily, and, very importantly, on budget.”

Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester, said that the research done at Forrester on the cloud market would show $4.4 billion to be inflated. Bartels said that Forrester estimated the total public cloud market would be $72 billion in 2014, globally. The US might be close to $40 billion, so he said he would estimate it to be $2-3 billion for higher ed cloud in the US. That is considering the report is based on US data, which wasn’t totally clear.

Cloud models are often used in education situations to provide supplemental support and teaching to students, or to provide a better virtual classroom through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Satisfaction among the executives for the services they deployed were fairly high.

  1. Learning management systems – 69% satisfied
  2. Blended learning environments – 67% satisfied
  3. MOOCS – 54% satisfied
  4. Open Educational Resources (OERs) – 47% satisfied

“The cloud campus has no boundary and no curfew,” said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk. “If we’re going to maximize progress, we need to break down the divide between IT and the business functions on campus.”

While there is progress being made with technological integration in educational institutions, there is still a major problem to be addressed. According the report, 81% of those surveyed said that it is not standard practice for IT and academic departments to work together on developing IT programs and deployments. The press release noted that 57% of those surveyed believed that their end users saw that IT existed to fix problems, while 22% saw IT as an ally. Of course, this problem is not unique to education, but it is certainly a hindrance to innovation in the classroom.

Here are the actions that the surveyed IT executives have taken so far to deploy cloud solutions:

  1. 54% migrated email
  2. 30% offer conferencing and collaboration
  3. 35% deployed Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
  4. 20% deployed Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
  5. 17% deployed Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

It’s obvious that increased collaboration between the business aspect of educational institutions and their IT departments will be paramount to the success of cloud adoption, or any new technology for that matter.

“When you talk about the business side of academics you, actually, are talking about a very balkanized world,” Bartels said.

The president of a university is not equivalent, in the sense of power, to the president or CEO of a company. There are department heads and deans who also wield power, but are in and out of power as semesters change. The reality of academics is that it is a decentralized environment and it is difficult for most higher education organizations to make unified decisions.

When asked whether or not he thought the business aspect of universities and the IT departments would be able to reconcile to make things happen, Bartels said that the real question to ask is: “Can universities actually make big decisions?”

Cloud deployments are only part of growing network complexity among higher education organization. Most of those surveyed said that their network is now more complex than it was in 2012, attributing that increase in complexity to mobile device usage, more diversity in IT needs, and the more total applications.

Another big part of the report was the claim that 19% of all higher education purchases are made outside of central IT. Bartels said that there is definitely rogue cloud spending that is going on, but it probably isn’t anywhere near 19%

“The one thing I would be skeptical about is this 19%, or $4 billion,” Bartels said. “We’ve done a fair amount of research looming at this, and we tend to come up with numbers which are more in the 7-8% range.”

The report, titled: “Cloud Campus: The Software-Defined College,” draws its conclusions from a June 2014 online survey of 152 higher education IT executives, and was sponsored by VMware and Carahsoft. According to the press release: “The report has a margin of error of +/- 7.92 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.”

As with any report that is sponsored by a software vendor, dealing in that vendor’s specific market, it is important to vet the results.

“The key thing to keep in mind here is that it was sponsored by vendors,” Bartels said. “Those vendors, in turn, had a vested interest in trying to build the outcome, or build the story that cloud is really big. So, I’m certain that was their interest in having the study come up with a big number.”

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