Google Apps is probably one of the most (if not the most) recognizable cloud-based platform these days. Universities are starting to use this and replace old email and calendar systems with the help of cloud-solution provider Appirio.
Essentially, Appirio acts as a liaison between Google and the university. (Appirio does work with K-12 schools as well, but there's a larger focus on higher education as there are more students and faculty/staff with need for email accounts.)
Google provides the applications and charges for the administrative functionality. Most educational institutions subscribe to Gmail and Google Calendar, and collaborative apps (i.e. Google Docs) are more secondary in nature at this point.
Then Appirio steps in to help the university with initial planning, tuning the platform's architecture,the actual implementation, and training employees about the new capabilities. Ryan Nichols, VP of solution marketing at Appirio, said that a lot of the existing platforms at these schools are "older and brittle...so we have to be more careful about the migration plan."
One of the reasons why universities are moving to the cloud, particularly with Google Apps, isn't too revolutionary: the promise of cost reduction. That's fairly standard at this point.
Nichols also pointed out another reason: students are coming into college with different expectations as they are likely already educated in some sort of cloud collaboration. He also noted what impact this will have on the next generation of the virtual workforce:
One of the things that is really interesting about this shift is the impact this has on the enterprise overtime. We’ve talked about the consumerization of IT and what they’re experiencing in their personal lives is being transmitted to the workforce...
In universities, people are being trained how to work together. That’s at the core of every workplace...They’re going to be able to expect to work in a different way.
As Google Apps is accessible on almost every mobile device, Nichols said, people are going to bring the expectations of working via the cloud to the workforce.
Just as most tech insiders reflected last week at GigaOm's Structure conference that cloud computing is in its early days still, Appirio is too on this project. However, it is growing rather quickly as at least 10 universities are working with Appirio to adopt Google Apps, including Brown University and New York University.
Nichols acknowledged that "the need is really across the board" when it comes to upgrading this databases and platforms, private schools are making the change in larger numbers as it can be harder for public schools to justify major developments due to budgetary constraints. That goes a bit against the idea that lower costs is one of the driving forces behind cloud adoption, but it still makes sense as cloud usage isn't as widespread as it will likely be within the next few years.
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