The abundance of data available to institutions of higher education is staggering. It’s found in ERPs, data warehouses, data marts, and other systems and databases used throughout campus. For years, these data sources were, in fact, on campus (aka, the client, on premise, on-prem, etc). That’s not necessarily the case anymore.

Technological advancements have given colleges and universities the option to move all, or some, of their systems and data storage to the cloud (aka, SaaS). Now, having a choice between client and cloud means institutions must weigh their options.

First and foremost, know that there is no right choice for everyone. Each school has its own set of priorities, available resources, knowledge, and technical skills. So, the best thing each institution can do is evaluate the pros and cons of moving to the cloud or staying on premise as it pertains to them. There are four primary areas of evaluation that should be considered: security, access, cost, and comfort level.

Security

Although security practices and protocols have come a long way since SaaS platforms initially came on the scene, they are still an area of concern. For colleges and universities, this is especially true given the volume of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) they deal with on a daily basis.

When data is stored on the client, the institution has more control in securing that data. This includes using firewalls, anti-virus protection, system/database configuration, and institutional policy. We can also add in physical security, as servers are typically kept in locked server rooms with limited access.

When data is moved to the cloud, though, an institution can feel like three quarters of that control is taken out of their hands. Though they can still have data security policies in place, the firewalls, anti-virus, and system/database configuration is often left in the hands of the SaaS provider.

Access

Similar to security concerns are access concerns. When data is stored on premise, an institution may feel it has greater control over who has access to what data. Depending on the systems in place, it may also feel like it can better track who accessed what data and when.

A SaaS-based solution, to some administrators, might feel like they’re putting their data “out there” for anybody to access. The growing number of data breaches throughout the world, regardless of the industry, has put everyone on high alert. For this reason alone, you could understand why a college or university might hesitate over moving their data to the cloud. Heck, it’s gotten to the point where the school might have reservations about the SaaS vendor itself having access to private information.

Cost

Probably the most obvious – and most scrutinized – factor in deciding between cloud and client is cost. For many, this means simply comparing annual costs (i.e. seat licenses, subscription fees, maintenance fees, etc.). However, there are certainly other costs to consider.

For on premise solutions, one must also consider the cost of the required hardware (servers, routers, cables, etc.) and staff hours required to maintain both the solution and the hardware. For cloud solutions, the cost is typically less. The institution doesn’t require as much – or any – hardware, and staff hours are minimal to maintain it. Still, moving one system to a SaaS platform could result in additional costs when it’s discovered that other systems must be changed or moved to the cloud to remain compatible with that first system.

Lastly, costs related to the first two areas of evaluation must also be considered. Is there a cost to any additional security protocols that must be put in place? Staff will need to be trained. What will that cost? What about new staff? New technology might also require new staff with more specific skills and knowledge. As any HR administrator could tell you, staff turnover can be an expensive endeavor.

Comfort Level

Though we’re listing it separately, the level of comfort is often the rolled-up product of the attitudes and concerns toward security, access, and cost. It’s the gut feeling you get after assessing risk vs. reward. Even though we used the term ‘gut feeling,” this still needs to be an informed opinion. Going into the evaluation process with a pre-conceived notion and a closed mind will not do anybody any good.

Instead, gather any and all relevant information from the vendors under consideration. Get input from IT, Finance, and any other departmental stakeholders. Talk to the daily users and administrators, as well as the directors and department heads. Let the facts and expert opinions guide your comfort level in this key decision.

Conclusion

There’s an old adage that says, “keep your options open.” It’s a perspective that holds true for colleges and universities as they look for ways to store and access ever-increasing amounts of data. Nowadays, the options available include on-premise solutions and cloud-based platforms. There is no universal right choice or wrong choice when it comes this decision. Still, by carefully evaluating their security and access needs, all the costs involved, and their overall comfort level given the facts in front of them, administrators and decision makers at an institution can select the system that fits them best.

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Peter Wilbur

Peter Wilbur is a Technical Product Manager with Evisions and is based out of the company headquarters in Irvine, CA. Peter graduated from Northern Arizona University with a computer science degree in 1984. After working in several industries and with numerous companies, he joined Evisions in 2010 working on the support desk before moving to Professional Services, where he eventually came to serve as Professional Services Manager. Peter is a member of the Project Management Institute and a PMP. He enjoys spending time with his German Shepherds.
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