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Getting Beyond Lift & Shift: How EdTech Providers Can Truly Benefit from Cloud

Brian Imholte

Head of Education & Learning Services, EPAM

Vladimir Grevtsev

Senior Manager, EPAM
Blog
  • Business Information Services

In the rapidly growing EdTech market, continuous product and service evolution is a business imperative. It requires fast adoption of new digital services and extended capacity for innovation. However, EdTech companies often can’t afford to expand technical capabilities and maintain data centers. What’s more, for some educational companies, seasonal underutilization of extended computing resources bears even more cost.

Modern, out-of-the-box cloud solutions are a critical advantage, as they enable EdTech companies to greatly accelerate time-to-market while reducing total cost of ownership. Ultimately, they could do what many companies discovered when they embraced cloud: innovate and enrich products and services without losing momentum in the market and without significant infrastructure investments.

Those that benefit from cloud can quickly scale capabilities of the IT teams whenever it’s needed by procuring additional computing capacity and out-of-the-box digital services for developing and testing new ideas and features. For example, if an idea doesn’t work, capacity can be as easily reduced as it was extended. This can be achieved through correctly configured dynamic on-demand cloud resource allocation (autoscaling and load balancing) and serverless execution, which are the key cloud benefits for both innovation and getting the most for less.

Optimizing infrastructure costs is especially relevant for EdTech providers that deliver their education services across the globe: cloud eliminates the need to maintain separate data centers in different regions because it enables development of content delivery networks and geographically distributed services. 

In addition to accelerated speed of innovation, cloud enables EdTech providers deliver education in new ways through the latest technologies like:

  • omnichannel communication and real-time collaboration
  • cognitive services for personalized learning products
  • predictive learning analytics
  • automated learning content localization and accessibility
  • digital twins for smart campuses
  • modern architecture for mobile learning
  • VR/AR technology for enriched learning experience
  • subscription model enablement

Other cloud opportunities include digital rights management for education content, low code/no code capabilities for IT staff optimization, improvements in systems sustainability and availability, and continuously updated cybersecurity and compliance.

However, many digital learning companies are still in the early stages of adopting cloud: testing cloud strategies, implementing new operation models, building a cloud mindset and looking for an effective architecture for their products and internal systems.

Migrating to the cloud, many EdTech providers employ a “lift and shift” model without modernizing their systems, which can become a barrier to reducing costs and even lead to increased costs. This happens when an on-premises solution is migrated to the cloud as is, reserving (thus, paying for) computing resources in the cloud to the full required capacity, without considering their utilization. Alternatively, cloud computing services can be set-up to run “on-demand,” only if a certain request is triggered.

To properly optimize and drive long-term cost savings, companies need to re-engineer their solutions into applications and components (microservices and containerization) and analyze their utilization. Those systems that have constant high utilization can run on reserved cloud instances (flat resources) with discounted rates. Other applications where utilization is not constant can be managed with “on-demand” cloud computing resources (or serverless). Implementing microservices architecture is a core component to mastering cloud complexity and becoming a cloud-native organization.

Transforming EdTech Businesses into Cloud-Native Organizations

Cloud native is becoming an integral part of transformation initiatives. Adopting cloud can’t be the goal — your cloud strategy must align with your business strategy for effective transformation. Therefore, on the first step of the cloud journey, EdTech providers should start with identifying their business goals and aligning them to cloud enablers and opportunities.

Cloud Journey Roadmap

Cloud Strategy
The cloud journey is ever evolving and full of opportunity, so it’s important to build an iterative roadmap that supports gradually adding and maturing cloud operations according to your priorities. Another critical part of your cloud strategy defines the choice of cloud providers, measurement of KPIs, the order of application modernization using cloud services, possible risks, required cybersecurity measures, access controls and compliance procedures, migration financials and required skillsets in the organization.

Cloud Governance
Creating centers of excellence is the best way to achieve proper cloud governance. It’s required to ensure that the cloud strategy is followed: the selected cloud providers and cloud services are in use, corporate processes are followed, security and compliance is monitored and costs are under control. Moreover, centers of excellence play a huge role in culture change, cloud-native mindset buildout and adoption of it by the entire organization.

Architecture, Migration & Modernization
In the extremely competitive EdTech market, responsive, scalable and resilient architecture is required to get ahead of the game. Building such modern cloud-based architectures requires refactoring old monolithic applications into microservices and connecting them to the wealth of available cloud services. However, a proper cloud foundation should be built first to provide a secure, flexible organization and resource structure. A cloud foundation primarily considers aspects such as cloud subscription, access, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) with response automation (Security Orchestration, Automation and Response), data governance and migration, network setup, automated templates and cloud resources governance. Cloud adoption is a continuous journey and the right foundation that corresponds to your current needs is setting up the tone of this journey.

DevTestSecOps & SRE
Advances in cloud technology call for new skillsets and operating models. With an ever-increasing need for agility and speed, IT departments are embracing the DevTestSecOps model, in which applications are developed on an automated pipeline, from initial code check-in to automated tests, security vulnerability testing and automated deployment. Site reliability engineering (SRE) introduces cloud-based best practices for running resilient, scalable and robust systems in production.

Adopting cloud native all comes back to the mindset change. According to Microsoft, Netflix has 600+ services in production and deploys 100 times per day; Uber has 1,000+ services in production and deploys several thousand times each week; WeChat has 3,000+ services in production and deploys 1,000 times a day. These companies operate on a new level with speed, agile culture and change acceptance. Cloud mindset buildout throughout the company should be a separate underlying task on the roadmap.

Continuous Cloud Journey

Modern technology trends in digital education are tightly connected to or sometimes even impossible without cloud (for example, using cognitive services). Cloud can enable new business models for the EdTech industry, like subscriptions and ML-based B2C products, provide efficient infrastructure for remote learning on a global scale, support mobile learning and omnichannel learning experiences, offer personalized learning strategies, open the door to analysis of the student behavior and prediction of the learner success. These cloud-enabled technologies become a comitative advantage in the fragmented EdTech market with a lot of start-ups joining each year.

The cloud serves as a catalyst for time-to-market and innovation, which prompts learning companies to operate in the new ways with agility and speed. The cloud journey in education is a continuous one, there’s no endpoint. Thus, EdTech companies should prepare for an iterative process of technology maturing and cloud mastery, which will help them optimize for growth, stay on top of the competition and ultimately bring new value for their learners faster.

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