Higher education IT departments face a tricky balancing act when budgeting for server capacity. They need enough capacity to handle high-traffic periods, such as class registration when every student is online, poring over course catalogs and refreshing their browsers over and over, trying to be the first in line for the most popular classes. Or during enrollment periods, when prospective students from time zones around the world are trawling through the campus website, downloading brochures and uploading applications.
At the same time, budget owners have to keep in mind that demand for computing resources will substantially decline during summer and winter breaks, when servers need only to accommodate the scattering of professors and students participating in interterm classes. But because registration and enrollment are crucial to the functioning of colleges and universities, institutions with onsite servers have no choice but to configure them for far more capacity than they would need for nine-tenths of the year.
Overcommitting funds to server capacity is especially painful for higher education institutions, because they set aside less than 5 percent of their budgets for IT. That’s why, pre-pandemic, more and more higher ed institutions made the switch to cloud computing. Cloud computing platforms give IT staff the ability to scale their server capacity on demand—to increase it or decrease it as traffic peaks or drops. In fact, in the 2018 IDG Cloud Computing Survey, 68 percent of respondents moving to the cloud said they were doing so to gain more scalability.
After more than a year of forced online learning, students have a new understanding of what educational experiences are available to them. While many students are eager to return to the classic college experience—long hikes across campus to ivy-covered buildings where they can attend classes in lecture halls and meet with professors in cramped offices—other students will wish to continue using mobile technology to create an individualized learning environment.
To meet this broadened range of expectations, colleges and universities will need to increasingly embrace a hybrid model of education. This will require IT departments to not only serve dorms crammed with students typing away at smart phones and laptops, but also mobile students logging in from a dozen different time zones. The ability to scale server capacity on demand will be more indispensable than ever.
No matter which side of the hybrid model students support, almost everyone believes that colleges can no longer offer only in-person instruction. In the 2020 Pearson Global Learner Study, 88 percent of respondents believed that educational institutions should use technology to maximize the learning experience for students.
Higher-ed faculty appear to be onboard with the modernization push. Having worked out the initial kinks in integrating remote technology into teaching methods, professors seem more comfortable accommodating both on- and off-campus students. An Every Learner Everywhere study found that 45 percent of surveyed faculty members felt more positive about remote learning than they did before the pandemic.
IT departments for colleges and universities adopting hybrid teaching models will have to become even more nimble, even while coping with the same shrinking budgets as every other campus department. This makes the scaling capabilities of cloud computing platforms the perfect answer to the unique server capacity needs of higher education.
Platform.sh is a cloud Platform-as-a-Service that is built to meet the unique scaling needs of higher education institutions. To learn more about the many features and benefits we provide colleges and universities, please read the case study of our partnership with the University of Missouri.