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Does the “cloud” promise a silver lining for UB?

Article By Blake Cooper

Photo by Douglas Levere

Published April 24, 2015

The tantalizing promises of “cloud-based” services are difficult to ignore. We are constantly bombarded by new apps and services offering the tremendous flexibility of accessing our data and services from any device, and sharing them effortlessly. But is this flexibility just as desirable when it comes to data and services involving our work and research at UB?

Blake Cooper (UB Student, Class of 2016) is originally from Canandaigua, NY. He is studying Spanish, Linguistics and Comparative Literature, and beginning work on translating an Argentinian novel into English.

According to Saira Hasnain, Director of Enterprise Infrastructure Services (EIS), part of UB Information Technology, "Vendors often put the focus on cost savings and efficiencies. As we look to public and private cloud-based options, UBIT is challenged to examine the total cost of ownership in addition to the security and accessibility of UB's data."

The promise of centralized, widely-available data offered by commercial cloud solutions has shifted the focus of data management for large institutions. While the State of Wyoming recently announced a cloud shift to commercial options, New York State is consolidating its data centers in conjunction with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in order to deliver data to government centers throughout the state. This allows the state government to take advantage of some centralized data features without relying on an outside provider.

What about UB?

UB’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer J. Brice Bible told UBIT News that an eventual move to a cloud service for at least some of UB’s tech services is likely inevitable. “Frankly,” he said, “I would think within the next six to ten years the majority of our services will be in the cloud.”

Charting the path to the cloud is far from simple. Bible has witnessed other institutions make the shift out of necessity to save the labor and other costs associated with maintaining on-site servers. He wants UB to make a more calculated move.

“We need to have a robust plan - a roadmap - that we continue to review to know what steps to take when it makes sense for us,” he said. “The three things most important to us when evaluating this change are cost, technological capability and security.”

Three considerations

Each of these factors can be more complicated than they appear. For example, Bible notes that there are often hidden costs associated with utilizing IT services from commercial servers. As far as capabilities of current technology, any cloud services solution would need to meet or exceed the reliability of UB’s current, custom-designed systems… and that means no lag or downtime due to a remote connection.

Then there’s security, of the utmost importance to a university that manages data for tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff. Bible continued, “Cloud service providers may claim they are a certified data center, but we’re going to need to look into their security for ourselves and do our own audits. Not every provider will allow this.”

Which services to choose?

There are also questions about which services to move. With services likely being moved one at a time or in smaller groups there’s a concern about how well the integration between cloud-stored and existing services will remain. “From our university’s point of view, there needs to be a seamless transition,” Bible said.

Evaluating cloud service options is something UB’s VPCIO will continue to do along with IT leadership and other campus partners. “We want to be conservative about making a transition,” Bible said. “But ultimately we have to be smart about when to do it.”