Classroom Disruption

Simon Ognall is Director of Channel & Alliances UK at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix spoke to Comms Business recently about the opportunities in the education sector.

CBM: Where is the disruption coming from? Digital Disruption is all around… how is it impacting this particular vertical and how can the Channel react?

Simon Ognall: The main disruption in the Channel in terms of education is coming from student demand. With technology developing and dominating their social lives, students are similarly relying on advanced technologies for their education. They are expecting better online services as well as a more innovative and on-demand approach to teaching and learning. It has to be accessible and, if so, engagement will be stronger.

Higher education in particular is under pressure to advance. As students become more responsible for their education, their expectations increase. This is where cloud comes in as it enables universities to keep up with demand, allowing them to deploy cutting edge technologies and teaching practices. With cloud services affecting every element of the broader IT industry, it is no surprise that it has become a solution for the education vertical too.

CoreAzure worked with Staffordshire University to move them to the cloud to save money and respond to student demand. Following the migration – the first of its kind for a UK university – Staffordshire was recently awarded The Times Higher Education Award for most improved student experience, in recognition of the positive impact that this project has had.

CBM: Which products and services are selling well?

Simon Ognall: Office 365 Education is still hugely popular with education institutions, largely because the product is free and integrates well with the rest of the Microsoft software suite. Most student and teacher software products are Microsoft compatible, so products are always likely to sell well due to the ease of compatibility.

Moving to the cloud is also becoming more common within higher education institutions, as universities are looking for more flexible and scalable options to support an increasingly digital learning experience. Universities are moving away from traditional on-premise IT infrastructure to the cloud, which delivers better value for money and greater flexibility. Channel players can assist with this move, enabling universities to evolve from traditional businesses to digital businesses. CoreAzure and Equinix are working with a range of universities to support migrations to the cloud, transferring the majority of infrastructure services away from on-premise delivery models.

Another service that is becoming popular in the education vertical is high-performance computing as it offers scalability and flexibility to universities managing large amounts of data. This is particularly important for research-led universities which have to be able to process and analyse vast amounts of data on a daily basis. On-premise infrastructure still forms an important part of an HPC capability but cannot offer the agility provided by Cloud-based services. Moving to the cloud enables universities to access data instantaneously and is a real step change for research capabilities.

CBM: Are there new products on the horizon?

Simon Ognall: Although the cloud is a popular choice for universities, some are concerned about security issues. With GDPR having recently come into effect, there is renewed emphasis on ensuring the proper management and security of data. In response to this, CoreAzure are using the security features of Azure such as Azure Information Protection to provide education institutions, along with other organisations, greater control of data and achieve acceptable levels of risk. Particularly useful for universities or environments where much information is shared over email and in non-corporate and regulated settings, the software protects data regardless of where it is stored or who it is shared with.

With the ever-greater focus on data privacy and security, the direct, private exchange of data, also known as interconnection, is becoming critical for education enterprises across all levels to decrease the potential of cyber-attack by avoiding the public internet. Interconnection forms part of a successful cloud strategy and as universities start to make the transition to cloud, most cloud service providers (CSPs) will suggest key management solutions to help manage the access to applications and data within a single cloud platform solution. However, with the increasing popularity of hybrid and multicloud deployments, there is a need for key management solutions that are compatible with all CSPs.

In response to this, Equinix developed SmartKey, a cloud-independent hardware security module designed to provide secure and scalable key management services to address performance and governance, as well as risk and compliance, across multiple CSPs and hybrid cloud infrastructures. It offers a secure future with a lot less complication.

CBM: How is the purchasing behaviour of this vertical changing?

Simon Ognall: IT in Education is becoming commoditised, with evolving consumer behaviour changing the vertical significantly. Purchasing behaviour has become more agile and flexible. As a result of this, more applications are being delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) because this offers more freedom and flexibility as well as being better value for money. There are still traditional vendors in play, but there is now much more emphasis on common standards and open standards to allow applications and platforms to co-exist. With the new technologies emerging in this vertical, change is likely to continue and Channel players must be ready to adapt.

CBM: What are the major considerations for partners wanting to enter and succeed in this vertical?

Simon Ognall: For Channel partners to enter and succeed in this vertical, they must truly understand the education sector and the challenges faced by those working in it.

To thrive, Channel players need to be able to build new environments and platforms and understand how education institutions can best exploit these in the cloud. Channel partners must adapt to being more collaborative as they will be working alongside different vendors with a variety of applications and platforms to provide a complete solution. Equinix has created the Equinix Channel Partner Program to assist with this move to a more collaborative approach, supporting Channel players to respond to new business opportunities. The program opens new streams of revenue not previously available to Channel players due to narrower scope.

CBM: Can you be a generalist or is it essential to specialise in this vertical… why?

It is essential to be a specialist when operating in the education vertical. This is because the education market is a discerning one, expecting high value from services they consume. Channel players can only really offer this if they become an expert in the field, proving their understanding of educational needs in order to succeed. They must add value by helping customers to deploy and best utilise cloud-based services.

As organisations across all industries make the move to the cloud, Channel partners must adapt so as not to lose out on business and ultimately fail to survive. By partnering with Equinix as a strategic colocation partner, Channel companies, like CoreAzure, can play a vital role in helping their customers to transform to meet the requirements of the changing digital landscape.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine