Out of space in data centers, GW may move to cloud computing

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of GW Media Relations

David Steinour, the chief information officer, said GW's potential move to cloud computing would help free up space on crowded data centers.

The University could move some of its servers from crowded data centers to the cloud, GW’s chief information officer said last week.

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of GW Media Relations
David Steinour, the chief information officer, said GW’s potential move to cloud computing would help free up space on crowded data centers.

Data centers on the Foggy Bottom and Virginia campuses house the computer systems that run the GW1X wireless network, GWorld, 4-RIDE and other common services. Chief Information Officer David Steinour said outsourcing that work to a cloud computing system would offer an alternative to constantly moving data between the centers.

“We’re at a crossroad of what we’re going to do because now that we’re into high-performance computing, we’ve maximized our space that we have in those data centers,” Steinour said.

The move could also save GW about $1 million a year, according to estimates from two years ago.
Those cost savings have made the cloud even more attractive at colleges around the country.

Steinour said GW is looking to sign a long-term contract with a company in Virginia, but the plan needs approval from the Board of Trustees before the University can establish a timeline for the move.

He said top leaders are “currently evaluating different options to see how cloud computing fits with our infrastructure and resources.”

The move would come after GW’s technology office faced some snags recently. Cooling systems in the Foggy Bottom data center failed twice last month, forcing the University to put several services offline to avoid overheating. GWorld machines had connectivity problems with off-campus merchants and public computers in Gelman Library were unavailable during one of the campus-wide technology outages.

“From a financial standpoint, it would benefit us holistically as a university,” Steinour said. “I think it will take the pressure off of a lot of the IT folks, because I think that there are experts that do this for a living, and we do it for a living, but that’s only a piece of our job.”

He added that the GW community would experience “better up-time and more reliability,” while conserving University resources.

Georgetown University saved $700,000 after transferring some of its computer applications to a private cloud. Rachel Pugh, a GU spokeswoman, said the cloud also allows the school to offer students the “consumer and social experience” they are used to in their personal lives, such as when they use Google, Amazon or iTunes.

“Cloud enables a mobile – anytime, anywhere, any device – [with] access and a modern, intuitive user experience,” Pugh said, adding that the technology maintains “a secure university environment that scales beyond what any one institution could create in-house.”

With students on all three of the University’s campuses connecting to the internet with laptops, mobile phones and tablets, GW is working to streamline the system.

Universities can benefit from cloud technology because they can infinitely expand storage, and automate and centralize their systems, said Eden Dahlstrom, director of research for the higher education IT association Educause.

“Each of these make institutions more efficient, and arguably save both time and money through these efficiencies,” she said, adding that using cloud technology “is likely a high institutional priority” for any company or organization that has not yet made the switch.

But revamping the University’s data management has its drawbacks. With all data housed miles away, cyber-security comes into question. GW would also face a learning curve, adjusting from a customized system to a highly standardized service.

“As with all new technologies, there is an upside and a downside, and tipping the balance toward the side of a technology being beneficial versus risky is usually just a matter of time,” Dahlstrom said.

Steinour said students wouldn’t notice a change if the University migrated services.

“You don’t know where your stuff’s coming from now and it would be seamless when we do it,” he said.

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