Computing expert: Universities struggle to effectively implement cloud-based technologies

Lauren Florence

Though cloud computing has the potential to be incredibly useful on college campuses, university administrators will have to educate and engage their own faculty members on the technology if they want to unlock that potential, according to a visiting lecturer.

Kenneth Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which surveys IT officials at American universities and colleges, spoke Thursday about the challenge information technology poses to universities. Green said there is a need for more user support and instructional integration than currently exists. 

Cloud computing includes online-based technologies such as UTmail and Canvas.

According to Green, the focus should not be on which technologies universities buy — rather, the critical question is how the universities actually plan to use and implement those technologies.

“The hard technology issues are really people, planning, programs, budgets, employment,” Green said. “It’s all the stuff surrounding technology when we used to argue about the technology,” Green said.

According to Green, a survey the Project conducted in 2014 reported that most universities and colleges still won’t have deployed “higher cloud” applications by 2019. Higher cloud applications are more complex than applications already in use by institutions such as Blackboard and Canvas.

Green said IT officers want to know about the security of clouds, such as where their data will be stored, and that it’s not enough to know it’s in a cloud contracted by a third-party provider.

“Will the cloud provide adequate security?” Green said. “A large plurality of IT officers say no. They have real concerns — given some of the hiccups that Amazon and Google [have had] about cloud issues that maybe they can do a better job.”

Pearl Ko, an information studies graduate student, said she was surprised that so many IT officers reported being insecure about cloud computing.

“It seems strange because as a student I feel very secure with it,” Ko said. “It doesn’t bother me, but I’m surprised that there’s no support for faculty and staff to migrate to the cloud.”

The University sees great potential in cloud offerings and isn’t afraid of pursuing new options, Brad Englert, University chief information officer, said. There shouldn’t be any fears about cloud computing, Englert said, because many cloud companies use encrypted data and are thoroughly secure.

“I was happy to see UT-Austin at the forefront of several IT trends, especially the move to cloud computing,” Englert said. “As recommended by students in via campus IT governance, we migrated our student email, UTmail, to the Google cloud in back in May 2011. Since 2011, graduates can keep their UTmail email address, which was not available before then.”