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Why Higher Ed Needs to Study Up on Data Centers

By: Kayla Matthews on October 15, 2018

Many college campuses offer transportation networks, on-campus law enforcement and various places to dine or enjoy leisure time in addition to all the academic buildings.

And, data has become a significant part of daily operations at these institutions. Due to that development, it's increasingly necessary for the higher education sector to get acquainted with data centers.

Data Centers Encourage Standardization and Cost Savings

Before data centers, universities typically relied on separate server rooms. However, each one might use different technologies and require different maintenance needs depending on the age of the equipment.

Moreover, using various server rooms without standardized equipment makes it difficult to troubleshoot issues, causing undue burdens on the IT staff.

The team at Cambridge University emphasized standardization when it came up with a plan to unify 200 server rooms together into a single data center. Such consolidation of data operations represents one of the computing trends in the higher education sector.

One of the benefits of having a central data center is that it allows for more efficient operations. The target was to have a 40 percent reduction in energy costs.

Another goal at Cambridge was to make the data center as future-proof as possible by building it to accommodate new technologies that become available. Then, the university could potentially avoid retrofitting its infrastructure as technology advances. Such a benefit would also result in reduced expenses.

Data Centers Could Spur Research and Collaboration Efforts

If educational institutions have reputations for being leaders in research, they may frequently collaborate with experts in various fields who aren't necessarily on campus. Then, a tech infrastructure must support telecommunications platforms, the ability to save data in the cloud and other capabilities that help people work together across distances.

A new data center at Michigan State University serves the needs of local students and faculty, while also allowing collaborations between exterior businesses and research efforts. It complies with federal requirements for the treatment of sensitive information, plus has a cloud-storage component that lets users access their data from any location or device.

Like in the instance of Cambridge University above, Michigan State University also sought consolidation. But, here, the aim was to consolidate three data centers into one larger one. Notably, this new data center is highly scalable, meaning it should allow the institution to ramp up its research and collaboration efforts moving forward.

Data Used to Improve Student Success Rates and Outcomes

Regardless of their locations or the sizes of the student bodies, educational institutions must gauge whether they're continually making progress in helping students thrive. At Southern Connecticut State University, all first-time students enrolled in classes full time are part of longitudinal studies that span from freshman orientation to graduation.

The findings show the psychological-educational factors that matter when students begin college are still important later along the educational path. Moreover, when studies focus on changeable elements of a student's learning experience, it's possible for faculty and staff to make actionable changes to better support learners.

When data collection occurs throughout a student's time at a university, it's increasingly important for an institution to have a scalable framework in place that allows gathering data seamlessly, storing it securely and accessing it as needed.

Innovative data centers allow those things to happen, maximizing universities' abilities to use data effectively to help students.

Hyperconvergence Strategies Simplify and Centralize Updates

Most educational institutions inevitably reach points when they realize it is time to make technological upgrades. When those entities consider hyperconvergence options, it could be possible to save money and get systems upgrades for the times.

A few years ago, Western Washington University pursued hyperconvergence through a solution that simultaneously updated its computing, networking and storage capabilities. Doing this involved installing nodes that supported virtualized servers, plus using a dedicated app.

Then, in a period of a few days, the university reduced its data center footprint by 75 percent, also slashing power and cooling costs by the same amount. The node structure now in place also allows the university to only invest in upgrades as necessary instead of undergoing updates with unnecessary hardware.

Data Centers Help Support Online Learners

According to a recent study, online classes are getting more popular. One surprising statistic from the research found that over half of the people taking online courses also enroll in on-campus options from the same universities. Online classes often result in reduced tuition costs for the students that take them, but they also provide convenience.

However, that convenience may not be apparent if a university lacks an adequate data infrastructure able to handle the increased demands from online students, as well as those connecting to networks for in-person classes.

West Texas A&M University installed a virtualized data center a decade ago. Later, representatives realized further upgrades were needed to support the university's growing number of distance learners. The institution partnered with Cisco and installed nine more web servers. After that upgrade, the university could cater to its online scholars in ways not previously possible.

Data Centers Likely to Become Even More Necessary

The above examples are some of the most prominent reasons why universities should strongly consider updating their computing infrastructures and data centers if they don't meet modern standards. Doing so could protect the entities from downtime, make it easier to perform upgrades and showcase the universities as facilities able to evolve as new technologies emerge.

Plus, data centers will almost certainly become even more crucial for helping universities operate smoothly.

Those institutions still clinging onto old technological methods will find it difficult to compete in the educational landscape.

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