NB and caveat: I say “we” a lot in this post. I do not mean the “we” that is my organization and/or the university at which I work. I mean academia in general.
There has been a lot of debate – everywhere, but especially in academia – about outsourcing. Lately, this has been e-mail. The most notable and commonly used has been Google mail for Education. Their suite of products offers quite a few features but, by a mile, the major feature used is mail. Integration with existing user accounts, maintaining domain name, etc – Google has done a good job (though I have mentioned before about how I don’t think they’ve done a good job developing their products beyond an initial stage). Microsoft has entered the fray with their live@edu product, which is obviously aimed at schools. It integrates well with Active Directory from what I’ve heard, so it’s ready for what many schools are already using for directory management.
However, that’s mostly been just e-mail. And even then, there is a lot of debate about whether it’s “safe” to have one’s e-mail data off-campus. There is this opinion that one’s e-mail is apparently too important to outsource. Now, presuming that FERPA security and privacy rules have been met, it doesn’t make any sense to me. First, if an accounting or law firm can outsource, then so should a school.
But, fundamentally, what makes our e-mail so special? What makes our data in general so special? What’s wrong with outsourcing? At the very least, we are looking at a less expensive option, with sufficient security (again, presuming that a school’s counsel is comfortable with FERPA compliance), and a whole lot more engineers and system administrators running and maintaining the system.
I have been putting forth an effort to provide substantial network-based, enterprise-level storage for the faculty and staff at the law school. Of course, I want to work within the university infrastructure first. But we still run into the same issue – fewer system administrators, fewer people managing the servers. We have some great staff at the university that are dedicated to their jobs, but you can’t compare the admin to system ratio and economies of scale (in both human and monetary capital) that a big outsourcing company can provide.
This proposal means putting all of one’s data on someone else’s storage solution, off-campus, and in the “cloud.” In some cases our data might be across the country.
But what’s so wrong with that? Why is our data so important that we can’t accept this as a possibility?