In 2016, Could the Cloud Be UMS’s Greatest Technological Investment?

The trustees of the largest educational enterprise in Maine have been called upon to support multi-year investments to upgrade technology in classrooms. The University of Maine System is looking for support to spend around $45 million (over a three-year period) to upgrade the wireless infrastructure that has become outdated. I believe that because of 21st century competition, what is “outdated” is not necessarily “slow”, but only slow in comparison to the competition. Perhaps UMS’s wireless needs to be upgraded, not so much because it is currently slow, but because wireless at other universities around the world (and in New England especially) are so fast.  The $45 million is to help the system catch up with peer institutions. One of the main goals, according to the Bangor Daily News, is to “enhance collaboration and online learning capabilities”.

From a technology perspective, I can see why this initiative is important. Wireless technology is gives students the ability to efficiently use their devices to connect with each other. As many of us who are not students know, these devices connect us in ways that’s been hitherto unknown and opens new avenues for collaboration. This collaboration leads to new insights. New insights lead to innovation. Innovations lead to the tackling of the world’s toughest challenges. Any university with a robust wireless infrastructure is able to increase its appeal and reputation, all of which leads to the improvement of student recruitment.

UMS has a role in the economic engine of Maine, but technologically – and considering that graduates are no longer vying only for domestic jobs – it has an important role in giving Maine students a competitive edge in a global market. For this reason these types of technology updates are no longer a choice, but somewhat of a necessary. I say “somewhat” because financial assessments are important when deciding what, specifically, is considered a crucial upgrade.  I see that VDI is one of the most economical ways to improve the costs of giving students a reliable user interface (similar to what I wrote about here) and keeping them connected.

From the looks of it, Dr. Bruce E. Segee seems to have a handle on it. He’s been doing something like this since 2013. Dr. Segee runs the Advanced Computing Group at the University of Maine. He is providing the exact type of innovation that excites me. Here is a description of cloud computing benefits which are so poignant for organizations today. From ACG’s webpage:

How much of your research depends on a single PC working correctly? How long would it take to recover from a hardware failure? Tired of maintaining computers? Want to spend more of your time on your research and less time (and money) on computer maintenance? Want to share a dedicated computer among multiple users with little risk? Want reliable, cost effective, and fast computing power? Realize all this and more with virtual machine (VM) technology.

 

VM allows you to design a custom built “machine/server” or a copy of an existing computer’s specs to be stored and retrieved on any designated computer. VM’s are regularly backed up and provide integrated software management. They are easily customizable and come with storage and support.

Dr. Segee is, I’m sure, also familiar with big data and the revolution it will bring to science and analytics as he is also leading an initiative to improve Maine’s cyberinfrastructure for economic development. And to make sure I don’t leave anyone out, he also works with an incredible team to make this possible.

Could Dr. Segee be an influencer in how the UMS system proceeds with its shrinking IT budget and the necessity to continue bringing more wireless capacity to the students? This is complete speculation on my part, but I hope Dr. Segee’s team will be very much involved with discussions related to the scarcity of IT dollars and the necessity to keep improving. According to the Bangor news article, UMS’s IT department has been one of the first to experience a shrinking of its size. All of this, and workloads have only increased.

These issues make the UMS System sound like the perfect candidate for more cloud technology – perhaps IaaS? I don’t want to assume that UMS isn’t using infrastructure as a service, or even co-location, but if they are not, this could save many dollars over time. Students who are still interested in learning how to build servers could do this with companies in Maine who do this on a regular basis. I am sure any cloud company in Maine would be glad to develop a program for students who are interested in building data centers. They would still be able to work with the servers and applications. (From what I’m seeing in the industry, applications are starting to become even more important for organizations than hardware maintenance, so long as the maintenance is being managed 24/7 by a cloud provider).
Maybe some of you have a different take on this, so I’d love to read your comments below. Do you believe that cloud technology could be more beneficial to UMS?

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