AWS Public Sector Blog

5 ways higher education institutions get started transforming with the cloud

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen amazing innovation among our higher education customers in the face of complex challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the need for new strategies around work, learning, and research. The pandemic accelerated institutions’ need to transform not only their infrastructure and systems, but the models and methods for how they meet the needs of learners and their institution’s mission.

Higher education institutions that hadn’t previously considered the cloud prior to the pandemic are now investigating how to begin their cloud journey. In this blog post, we highlight some strategies and first projects to help higher education institutions get started with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud simply and efficiently.

1. Setting up a secure and reliable environment

AWS Control Tower is the simplest way to set up and manage a secure, multi-account AWS environment. It automatically provisions an environment for you, using best practices in account management, governance, and implementation based on AWS’s experience. AWS Control Tower itself is provided at no additional charge—you only pay for the services that you set up through AWS Control Tower.

The California State University (CSU) system is the largest four-year public university, based on enrollment, in the United States. The organization is working to provide a cloud environment that can scale to support 500,000 students across 23 campuses in the state of California. They got up and running with AWS Control Tower in minutes.

“What previously took us weeks of effort was completed in about an hour. We have seen how Control Tower scales up to meet our needs and because it’s orchestrating AWS services, we have flexibility to build quickly based on the landing zone it creates,” said Ryan Matteson, director of system-wide cloud acceleration at CSU.

2. Getting a fast start

Many universities manage their on-premises resources using VMWare, a virtualization technology. When your IT team has invested in learning and building in a VMWare environment, shifting to an entirely different environment in the cloud may feel like a challenge—unless you use VMWare Cloud on AWS.

VMWare Cloud on AWS is a hybrid cloud partnership between AWS and VMWare, and allows an institution to manage VMWare infrastructure both on-premises and in the AWS Cloud with the same, familiar VMWare tools and the same VMWare-trained staff, assisting your transition to the cloud.

The ability of VMWare Cloud on AWS to re-purpose your IT team’s VMWare skills can also reduce the effort to migrate existing applications from on premise to the cloud to take advantage of cost savings, scalability, and integration with other AWS Cloud services. For example, Athabasca University, Canada’s only entirely online public university, in collaboration with AWS Professional Services, used VMware Cloud on AWS to migrate the entirety of their VMWare-based IT infrastructure to the AWS Cloud.

These services and tools described above can help institutions get more comfortable with their move to the cloud. Now, let’s look at some projects that can have an immediate impact on your campus.

3. Giving students access to critical software

Imagine being a graphic design or engineering student during the COVID-19 pandemic. You might rely on a physical computer lab for access to expensive, resource-intensive software you need for your classes. You might not be able to run Adobe Creative Suite or engineering packages like Solidworks or AutoCAD on your personal laptop.

The College of Engineering at Boise State University had this problem in 2020. Boise State needed a solution that could provide anytime/anywhere easy access for students no matter their device, scale easily to support their needs, had a low total cost of ownership, and supported the software they needed to deliver to their engineering students. They used Amazon AppStream 2.0 to set up a virtual computer lab that streams applications to students through a browser. Boise State saved 75 percent of what an on-premises solution from a competing vendor would have cost. Over the course of 2020, they ramped up to streaming 20 different applications to over 400 engineering students through Amazon AppStream 2.0.

4. Scaling engagement with students

As campuses shifted to remote learning to accommodate pandemic restrictions, support problems that were previously solved through walk-in services had to be shifted to online or phone support. Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC). OSU-OKC combined several AWS services—Amazon Connect, Amazon Lex, Amazon Kendra, and AWS QnABot—to create a multi-channel artificial intelligence (AI) agent to ease pressure on their support teams. Amazon Lex is a conversational interface, the same technology that powers Alexa on Amazon Echo devices. With Amazon Lex and AWS QnAbot, OSU-OKC created a bot that can answer student, faculty, and staff questions via web chat or mobile SMS text messages by searching internal knowledge bases with Amazon Kendra. If the OSU QnABot isn’t able to answer a question on its own, it can escalate that question to a human agent through Amazon Connect, our cloud-based contact center.

5. Protecting digital infrastructure

After Hurricane Michael in 2018, Florida State University (FSU) realized how critical disaster recovery is to their overall operations. FSU selected Enquizit, an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, to design and launch a disaster-recovery-as-a-service solution in the AWS Cloud. Enquizit’s used CloudEndure Disaster Recovery, which continuously replicates infrastructure into a low-cost staging area in a preferred AWS account and Region. In the case of a disaster, you can instruct CloudEndure Disaster Recovery to automatically launch thousands of your machines—in their fully provisioned state—in minutes. Enquizit’s solution delivered FSU a near-zero data loss with improved recovery point and recovery time objectives.

This is just scratching the surface of what AWS higher education customers are doing with the cloud. From migrating student information systems to supporting digital preservation in academic libraries, or analyzing play data to help football coaches pick the best game plan, higher education customers drive innovation with AWS.

If you’d like to learn more about getting started on your institution’s own cloud journey, join us for our monthly Thinking Out Cloud webinar series.

And learn more about the cloud for higher education and read more stories on higher education on the AWS Public Sector Blog.