Although commercial cloud offerings can be attractive, the higher education community has very complex technology, compliance, and purchasing requirements needed to support the work of researchers, students and faculty as well as managing institutional operations. More often than not, this complexity has made adopting cloud-based services a significant challenge for institutional IT leaders. Faced with growing expectations for services and shrinking budgets, higher education CIOs have been working to effectively and efficiently deploy cloud services that meet user demands and enterprise standards at the same time and answer these tough cloud questions:

•What security, privacy and compliance standards do solutions meet?
•Are solutions scalable and integrate with enterprise infrastructure and data?
•What about enterprise-level terms, contracts and pricing?
•And, what new processes and technology strategies must be in place to support cloud services adoption?

In practice, neither the ‘commercial’ nor ‘government’ clouds have meaningfully supported the Research and Education (R&E) community’s unique requirements. A variety of experiences by institutions with cloud services led to a recognition that the commercial cloud would not and could not respond to the differentiated needs of the academic community.

"The extraordinary effort by the Internet2 community has driven forward the emergence of a ‘research and education’ cloud to complement commercial and ‘government’ clouds"

In May, 2010, a group of nearly 150 university and industry CIO/CTOs and business officers convened by Internet2, EDUCAUSE and NACUBO to explore what a future with cloud services would mean to higher education. The objective was to create models or strategies that would align the community and shape the way higher education would deploy the cloud. Strategies were identified to proactively influence cloud service development in a way that would ensure alignment with the needs of research, teaching and learning; lower business, legal and compliance risks; and reduce the costs and organizational impact of cloud services adoption.

To pursue this vision, a group of Internet2 member university CIOs funded an exploratory initiative in 2010 and in 2011 and Internet2 NET+ Services was established. Conceived and led by the R&E community, the initiative applies the same community standards and collaborative approach to cloud and trust solutions that guided the advancement of R&E networking in the late 1990s and created the Internet2 Network.

The result of this community collaboration is a unified portfolio of reliable cloud and trust solutions, enabling responsive services at scale and especially tailored for R&E’s diverse community of users. Through a rigorous peer-driven service validation process, small groups of institutions with interest in a particular service and provider work together to vet solutions for themselves and for the broader community. This approach of community acting on its own behalf enables swift deployment of next-generation cloud services, whether from commercial or community providers. Within four years, the NET initiative has vetted dozens of services by working with more than 80 campuses to evaluate, assess, and through a rigorous service validation methodologies, generated more than 600 enterprise level subscriptions at 370 participating campuses with dozens more companies expressing interest in making their services available through this pipeline. While differentiated by nature of the specific service offering, each cloud service available through Internet2 NET is provided under community developed, national scale legal and business terms. Such standards-based approaches to provisioning services significantly enhance the individual institution’s ability to procure and deploy cloud services.

Universities by nature often are fiercely competitive, but in this case the nearly four hundred schools have recognized the most effective approach to engaging with cloud providers was through collaboration across the Hi-Ed community. This model leverages the networking and identity middleware assets already available to all Internet2 community members, and in many cases to non-member campuses through a process by which as more and more universities participate in the NET+ initiative, the benefit of national scales accrues to large and small institutions alike. As more services are added through sponsorship by member campuses, the more likely the portfolio of services will address the diverse needs of individual institutions, researchers, students and educators. Importantly, the Hi-Ed community has come together without the need for external regulation or policy mandates–demonstrating that it is not only possible for competitive enterprises to collaborate, but that individual institutional efforts can be leveraged to bring additional value to the entire community.

This extraordinary effort by the Internet2 community has driven forward the emergence of a ‘research and education’ cloud to complement commercial and ‘government’ clouds. Its relative success since launching the first generally available service in April of 2012 really is a tribute to a model of community alignment and engagement and is a model that other industry verticals should consider emulating.

The lesson learned is that there is a need for dedicated clouds and cloud brokerage to support important verticals, particularly those that are the foundations of economic growth and improved quality of life such as research, education, and healthcare. As new innovative technologies emerge that will prove disruptive of business practices, it is the empowerment of collaborative communities of interest to ensure a healthy and effective transition to a technology future that promises to be truly transformative.