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Australian universities jump to hybrid cloud

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth June 4, 2024
Summary:
.Next 2024 - Nutanix higher education customers reveal hybrid cloud benefits

Australia

Australia is noted as having some of the lowest levels of public investment in higher education among countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As a result, technology budgets are tight, but in a country where the number of international students is rising, the technology experience cannot decline. Digital leaders at the University of Canberra and Bond University have modernized the technology infrastructure of their institutions in order to balance modern student demands with cost control. 

In April 2024, the Australian government revealed that the number of international students had reached 700,000, a record for the country. Both international and Australian students, researchers and university employees have high digital demands, and universities in all geographies are making technology investments to meet these requirements. Director of ITS at Bond University, Ann Yardley, is developing a new digital approach and says: 

Demand will only grow, so we need an ability to dial up or dial down. In the research space of the university, there is continuous innovation, and you need to spin up secure environments very quickly.

The University of Canberra, in the nation's capital, is also seeing rising digital demand from its students. Justin Mason, Associate Director of Vendor and Operations at the university, says: 

The student experience is what can make or break a university. Australia is small, and there is a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, so we have been putting in systems that track the student experience.

New world 

Both institutions have modernized their technology infrastructure to meet these demands. In the case of Bond University, there was a need to get off a burning platform, whilst the University of Canberra is starting a new digital strategy based on the infrastructure modernization delivered. In both cases, the institutions have adopted a hybrid cloud approach to their technology infrastructure. 

Yardley arrived at Bond University to discover an estate of servers that were coming to the end of extended support, and she didn't want to carry out a major hardware refresh, instead preferring to move the university to a mix of public cloud and on-premises services. Bond University had already adopted Microsoft Azure, but Yardley didn't want to be locked into a single vendor. Like her compatriot in Canberra, Yardley chose to work with Nutanix and adopt its NC2 hybrid cloud computing toolset. She says: 

I didn't want to be at the mercy of vendors and needed to improve the disaster recovery. I also wanted a personalized experience with a vendor whilst also delivering financial savings.

Yardley got her own team to do the majority of the modernization and integration in order to learn the new tool; she says: 

It is a small team, and I am making sure that we are building capabilities so that we can do the important things for the university. 

Yardley says very little refactoring of the applications used at Bond University took place, as like many of her peers, it was necessary to move to a more modern infrastructure first and foremost. She says applications will be refactored in the near future in order to extract greater efficiencies from the new infrastructure. 

Further south, at the University of Canberra, the infrastructure is now a mix of private and public cloud, on-premises technology and some cases of edge computing. Canberra is an early user of the Nutanix AHV hypervisor technology, which has replaced some legacy VMware within the estate. Mason says: 

When AHV came along, it made sense to move on to it, as we were paying VMware licence fees. We carried out a small proof of concept (POC) to prove the point.

Mason said there were no skills problems with moving from VMware to Nutanix: 

If you are good at VMware, you'll do AHV in your sleep; the skills are so transferable.

This experience extended to the outsourced technology partner of the University of Canberra, Wipro. Mason says the Indian systems integrator was quick to embrace AHV, yet the digital leader expected to receive some push back.

Workload management was a significant factor in Canberra's decision to move to AHV as it sought greater efficiency. Yardley at Bond University agrees, especially for data-heavy workloads which she says the business school creates: 

We want to make sure that we put the right data on the right cloud.

In connection to her right cloud approach, Yardley expects to develop Cloud FinOps skills within her technology team to ensure the budget and cloud usage are well managed. She says this will follow the development of a data framework at the Queensland university. 

In preparation for increased digital demands from the staff and students, Yardley is also looking to move to a composable architecture, which she said will support the need for experimentation, that is a vital component of higher education and research. A composable architecture will allow IT to remain out of the way of the students and researchers she says, but in control of the technology foundations and budgets. 

In Canberra, a 10-year digital master plan is in place supported by the infrastructure modernization, Mason describes the initial part as a stabilization and now the university is pushing ahead with 30 new digital initiatives across all areas of the institution, with the student experience central to the master plan. 

My take

With digital services, the universities of Australia are able to counter the tyranny of distance and, as the national government's figures reveal, attract important foreign students, especially from China. Australia's academic sector has become 3% of the nation's gross domestic product, tiny, admittedly, compared to its dominant mining sector, but as these digital leaders show, there is a vision to be efficient and competitive. China's demand for a highly educated workforce will only increase, and these two universities are putting in the technology foundations in place to meet that need. 

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