Universities to share £12.5m cloud services

As it finalises details of university budget cuts, England’s higher education funding body announces £12.5m shared cloud services programme

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The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) has allocated £12.5 million to a new cloud computing shared services initiative for universities and colleges.

Last week, HEFCE announcemed the details of its cuts to university funding. In what HEFCE chief executive Sir Alan Langlands described as a “challenging financial settlement”, £940 million will cut from teaching, research and buildings budgets in the coming financial year.

The shared cloud services initiative announced today will put £10 million towards building and supporting shared storage and data management services.

About half of this will be spent on building the cloud infrastructure itself, consisting of “virtual servers, storage and data management applications”, and developing a sustainable funding model for the future. The first step will be a pilot scheme with Eduserv, a non-profit organisation that provides hosting services to the public sector.

The other half will be spent on developing specific data management applications for higher education providers.

A further £2.5 million will be spent on developing cloud-based services to support university administration.

JANET(UK), the organisation that runs the higher education sector shared network, will appoint a broker to manage the allocation of cloud services and the relationship with suppliers. The overall project will be operated by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

Speaking to Information Age in October 2010, then-CIO of London’s City University Andrew Abboud remarked that there was an “unbelievable amount” of duplicated effort in the higher education sector, and that it was ripe for more use of shared services. “The current costs are just not sustainable,” he said. (Abboud has since become CIO of Laureate International Universities).

However, Peter Tinson, executive secretary of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA), said that there is a degree of cultural resistance towards shared services among universities. “I think there’s a fear of loss of control,” he said.