The Decentralization of Higher Education IT Spending is Now Underway and “Big Data” is the Reason

Information technology is impacting higher education institutions more than ever before. In the US, for example, a 2015 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service CDS Benchmarking study reports that universities, both public and private, are spending an average of 4.2 percent of their budgets on Information Technology (IT). Based on National Center for Education Statistics that cite overall higher ed spending at $536 Billion, that means a total of $22.5 Billion per year is being spent on IT.

College student center

The nature of how this technology investment is being deployed is changing. Computing is becoming less centralized and is now pushed closer to the source of where the data is being generated. Within IT departments, the processing which occurs in this outer perimeter of the campus network is often referred to as “edge computing.” Whereas IT used to only play a general information processing utility role, which relied mostly on the processing power of large centralized data centers, colleges and universities are now leveraging distributed IT technology to press their competitive advantage for both recruitment (of talented students, researchers and faculty) and for increased research project funding.

Below are three examples of how such changes are manifesting themselves across university environments:

Academic departments now lean on local IT to drive research funding

The plant pathology department at an eastern seaboard university was saddled with the challenge of having to work with a budget-strapped central data center to support their research projects. One enterprising individual within the department decided to leverage the department’s research expertise to build a partnership with local industry in order to secure some initial grant money. By providing valuable insights into plant diseases and the steps to be taken to maximize crop yields, the department used the initial grant funding to build its own local IT infrastructure. This allowed the computing power to be close to the source of the data being produced.

The installed IT infrastructure, provided the department with the flexibility needed to control its own priorities (instead of hoping that their applications would be prioritized by the central data center), and also opened the door to additional grant funding. The private entities providing the funding were able to see quick results and were also reassured that the research was being conducted in a safe, secure, and confidential environment.

Major college athletics grow the fan base through high quality “user” experience

Big school sports arenas and stadiums can host up to 100,000 people at one single event. In the past, fans were content to just see a scoreboard and eat a few hot dogs during the games. Now the new generations of audience, most of whom walk in with their smart phones, demand a multimedia experience during the games. The “connected” audience wants pictures, video, connection to friends, connection to stadium amenities, and access to scores of other games. All of this data requires local compute power so that the multimedia show can continue performing without a glitch. Universities are now building out IT infrastructure within their stadiums and connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices. A wide and broad fan base generates millions of dollars in revenue for these colleges, and local technology provides the interface that keeps the fans happy.

Student Life departments responding to “wired” dorm life

Today’s college students walk into their dorm rooms with laptops, smart phones, tablets, smart TVs, smart watches, and video gaming systems. Music, videos and research data are being streamed on a near constant basis. Bandwidth needs are accelerating at an exponential rate and, unless local IT infrastructure grows in proportion to the need, students are subjected to latency and delayed information access. This has affected the IT infrastructure of each dorm. The simple wiring closet has evolved into a micro data center. Students expect their systems to be up and running all the time with fast response times and uninterrupted connections.

Access solutions for local IT environments

These are just a few examples of the way IT systems across university campuses are becoming more distributed. As responsibility for managing these environments in a manner that guarantees Certainty in a Connected World shifts to less IT experienced individuals and staffs, the need for infrastructure management tools that simplify IT management while guaranteeing uptime becomes more critical. To learn more about how to better manage these local IT environments, visit our edge computing resource site.

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