I recently carried out a survey of IT directors to gauge the level of interest in the sector in a "user group" to discuss Google Apps for Education or perhaps cloud computing more generally. There were 28 responses, which is quite a good sample size for something like this. As this seems to be something that people are generally keen on, I will aim to organize an initial meeting for Autumn 2010.
Check back for further updates as this work progresses, but first a quick precis of the survey results...
- Substantial interest in such a group from HE institutions
- Overwhelming preference for a face-to-face meeting
- Key topics:
- Roadmap updates and engagement with Google over issues and enhancements
- Integration with identity management / AD sync etc
- APIs and systems integration
- Institutional case studies / show and tell
- Half of respondents had a production Google Apps service or were developing a service
- 1/3 of respondents were looking at their options and investigating suppliers
- HR, VLE and Library systems were the other common SaaS services (>10% of respondents)
- Google App Engine was the only PaaS in common use (1/4 of respondents)
- Amazon EC2 was the only IaaS in common use (>10% of respondents)
Now on with the survey questions...
Which of the following best describes Google Apps at your institution?
Project to implement under way
Business case being developed
Considering options - not selected a supplier
Not actively considering outsourcing
Outsourced with another provider
What topics would be of particular interest to you?
|Google Apps for Education product roadmap||23||82%|
|APIs and systems integration||21||75%|
|Engagement with Google over issues and enhancements||20||71%|
|Institutions' case studies / show and tell||20||71%|
|Google Apps Marketplace applications||10||36%|
|Google Message Security (Postini)||7||25%|
|Google Message Discovery (Postini)||6||21%|
|Google Search Appliance||10||36%|
|Single Sign On (SAML, Shibboleth etc)||0||0%|
|Identity Management (Active Directory sync etc)||23||82%|
|Developing with App Engine||7||25%|
I had hoped that the responses to this question would help to shape the agenda for the user group meeting, and I wasn't disappointed. It was also good to hear from several institutions keen to share their Google Apps story with the community. I was hoping for more interest in Android and ChromeOS, for the reasons discussed in my blog post on chromoting - but this stuff may be best covered in an exhibition area with hands on demos. It was illuminating to see the level of interest in the Postini products - I had been wondering how visible these were to folk working in Education. Our own initial investigations suggested that Google may need to rethink their pricing model to develop an EDU market for these products.
Institutions were also asked about their use of "Software as a Service", "Platform as a Service" and "Infrastructure as a Service". The results are summarised below...
There are so many cloud hosted Software as a Service offerings that I decided to use the UCISA CIS survey system categories rather than attempt to list individual services.
It was interesting to see that some HE institutions were actively pursuing SaaS solutions in areas that might be considered quite sensitive - such as HR and Payroll.
From the long tail of "other" responses I picked up email and collaboration as the key additional areas. It may be interesting to consider whether the UCISA survey could usefully be extended to cover these and other infrastructure areas - e.g. preferred server, storage and networking vendors.
My feeling on drawing up the survey was that the only Platform as a Service providers in widespread use would turn out to be Google's own App Engine and Amazon Web Services. Hence I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was some interest in Heroku and Microsoft Windows Azure too. What the chart doesn't capture is that several of the institutions were looking into more than one PaaS provider.
Institutions were also asked about their use of Infrastructure as a Service providers such as Amazon with their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service. This is an area that has seen a great deal of activity in the last couple of years, with many of the traditional players banking on a move away from on-premise IT.
Both Amazon (with VPC) and BT (with their Virtual Data Centre) are looking at a "hybrid cloud" approach that can use a VPN tunnel to provide Layer 2 adjacency between the customer premises and the IaaS provider's data centre.This makes it much less painful to move applications such as DNS and Active Directory into the cloud, and also potentially provides a route for live workload migration e.g. via VMware's Long Distance VMotion. I'll blog about the potential of the hybrid cloud separately...
It was interesting to see Eduserv's cloud hosting make an appearance. In this vein, Matt Johnson's blog posting on Eduserv's work on OpenStack and the "G-Cloud" is worth a look.
Looking at the responses to these more generic cloud computing questions it seems to me that this is still an area where people are still feeling their way. This is in contrast to services like Google Apps and Microsoft Live@edu, which have already gained significant traction. A cynic might say that these two are special cases, because they are being made available at no cost to institutions for a variety of reasons. Indeed it is instructive to look at the potential costs of an EC2 hosted site as I have blogged about recently.
So, all in all a very useful exercise - many thanks to all who responded, and in particular to those who volunteered to talk about their own experiences (I'll be in touch!)