The Driverless Car and the Data Centerless Campus

A higher ed challenge for Google.

May 28, 2014

Who among us in not excited by Google’s driverless electric car?

No steering wheel. No break pedal. No gas pedal. No gear shift. You do get a start button and a panic button.

I think that it is great that Google is building these driverless cars.  34,000 people die every year in car crashes, which although down from a high of 54,589 in 1972 is still a level of carnage that boggles the mind.  Self-driving cars really mean intelligent driving assistance cars, a technology that will lower accidents for everyone and enable people to drive much longer and much safer than ever before.  

Google seems to be one of the few companies willing to place large investments on exponential, as opposed to incremental, leaps in technology.

What would Google do if the company decided to apply this ambition to higher education?

What do you think is equivalent in ambition to the driverless car in our world of colleges and universities?

I think that my vote would the data centerless campus.   

The ability to finally turn off our last server.

Today the campus data center is as important as it has ever been. Even as we move many of our commodity services to the cloud, such as e-mail and some storage, we continue to on local servers and disks to house our most precious applications and data. We continue to invest in our data centers to insure business continuity and information security, and our data centers are resources that we depend on to be always available 365/24/7.

The problem is that data centers are very expensive to run.  

It is expensive to design and build the spaces.  It is expensive to buy (or lease) all the hardware.  It expensive to pay for all the energy to power and cool the servers.  It is expensive to recruit and retain the talented IT professionals that make our data centers run.

What if were possible to re-direct most of the resources that we devote to our data centers to core mission related activities?  To spend the money and devote the people time to teaching and research?  To utilize savings to help bend the higher ed cost curve?

Google has been systematically tackling the challenges related to building a self-driving car.

What if Google took a similar systematic approach to tackling the challenge of freeing higher ed from having to run a data center?

Google could identify a small number of institutions to work with to begin the process of moving services to the Google cloud.  First the SIS.  Next the storage.  Finally the financial systems.   
Google may find that it needs to fill in its portfolio of services by buying some companies.  And they may need to partner with others.

The process would build confidence about this transition in the higher ed community, helping to de-risk the exercise of moving operations to the cloud.

The payoff would come with scale.  

The Google cloud for campus data center operations may not more efficient for a few campuses, but the cost per campus would drop as more institutions made the move.

At a certain critical mass the cost for individual colleges and universities to run their technical infrastructure would decline dramatically.  My guess is that the services would improve as well, as Google would have the visibility necessary to make investments in services that would benefit large numbers of higher ed clients.

The Google Campus Data Center is an idea that is aligned with Google’s existing business in education

It would build on Google’s existing strengths and existing relationships.

Could this be done?

What would be the obstacles should Larry or Sergey somehow read this post agree to take on this challenge?

Is this the higher ed challenge that you would pose to Google?


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