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6 Hot Higher Education Technology Trends

While higher education institutions are consolidating data centers, smart data storage and data management for created content and video is a top concern.

Enterprise-level technology continues to evolve at a furious pace, and with the growing operational and technological complexity of our higher education institutions, school administrators and executives charged with IT responsibilities can be left scratching their heads trying to understand and navigate their options.

Higher education decision makers are eyeing ways to better understand, plan for, and execute around the technology trends that will impact their organizations in 2014.

Based on our own first-hand conversations with education leaders and executives, and observations during the first half of the year, several top-of-mind themes and challenges consistently emerge.

Cloud and Virtualization

The widespread adoption of cloud-based services has sparked considerable changes in higher ed. The movement to the cloud has been seen as an opportunity to address critical issues on college and university campuses, such as email services, curriculum services, Enterprise Resource Planning and Software-as-a-Service. While many institutions have invested in virtualized servers for a number of years, many are virtualizing desktops for cost savings as well as alternate delivery approaches.

Technology leaders are looking to use virtual desktops within shared computer labs as well as to provide access to applications on student personal desktops and through a student’s personal device. Virtualized desktops are also being used to replace PCs for administrative desktops in an effort to save money and improve security.

Enabling Data Center Consolidation

Large universities and small colleges alike can often seem like their own mini-governments: Each school, division, and department within any given institution has grown its own IT, and has dedicated resources and staff to maintain that infrastructure. But like in the Federal government, consolidation makes tremendous sense, from both a budget savings standpoint and in many cases even to free up precious physical space in campus buildings.

Shifting their environments to cloud based technology; whether public, private or, of particular interest in higher education, hybrid clouds; allows these institutions to enable high availability and improves resiliency and disaster recovery by using multiple providers. And cost efficiency is achieved through competition. Schools with multiple IT environments are moving to a centralized approach and seeing significant cost savings, especially when one factors in the scalability and flexibility achieved through IT as a Service (ITaaS). Reduced overhead costs and the freedom to align resources to critical needs within the university system are real game changers.

Shared Services

Institutions and faculty members are leveraging open source solutions and open education resources to provide customized applications with the hope of saving long-term costs. Sharing services is cost effective because it eliminates redundancy and helps ensure consistency and quality in delivery across institutions and divisions. Within higher education, this approach is highly transformative when colleges and universities look to share operational costs and save money by working with other higher education institutions, local education agencies, state and local governments and other governmental entities.

Big Data and Analytics

Universities across the country are moving towards offering big data and analytics for their research credentials, in order to better recruit the top researchers and academics and to attract more government grants and funding. But implementing a Big Data capability needs careful planning to be successful in the long run, and IT executives need to understand their best strategies for supporting these new environments.

For example, they need to build in plans for disaster recovery. They need to have a strategy for archiving older data sets to cloud systems in order to free up internal resources. And they need to consider whether a hybrid cloud solution that retains control over some of their data and computer processes, while moving other data and functions out of their limited environment makes sense.

Cyber Security

Protecting against cyber-attacks and threats from both inside and outside the campus environment is certainly not unique to colleges and universities. And while it might seem obvious that cyber security is a priority for every enterprise, the perception has been that education has not been a high value target. Yet, the same vulnerabilities that have plagued retailers like Target or hit multiple companies like the Heartbleed virus also threaten Higher Ed institutions.

Just in the past few months, the Universities of Maryland and North Carolina have been attacked, and those vulnerabilities are not simply from external hackers but also from campus insiders. The challenge is providing adequate security while still being able to deliver a high level of service across dispersed systems. And as IT expands into a hybrid-model, delivering cloud services should include security in any discussion.


Campus security is a significant issue and a larger priority at schools and universities across the country. Video and data analytics is one of the solutions that campus safety departments are leveraging to provide an added level of protection. Video monitoring software and hardware are becoming more prevalent as a way to not only monitor areas of concern, but also as a way to collect large amounts of data, analyze that data, and implement preventative measures based on the results.

And it goes far beyond replacing a burned out walkway light, to identifying predator patterns and behavioral recognition. While institutions are consolidating data centers and servers, smart data storage and data management for created content and video is a top concern. This type of video and data collection requires large amounts of processing and storage capacity that must be factored into IT strategies and resourcing.

These trends may not look much different from what commercial enterprises are facing, but they do require planning and resourcing in order to ensure that universities and colleges can leverage technology solutions and products to meet the requirements of today’s complex and multi-faceted mission.

Bob Burwell is Chief Technology Officer State, Local Government and Education for NetApp.