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Max’s Minute: The Cloud Is Core at Boise State

Max Davis-Johnson, CIO, Office of Information Technology at Boise State University, discusses the criteria we use to make decisions to move to the cloud, including actual cost of ownership, security, features, configurability, and integration.

Max shares how Boise State leverages fiscal responsibility, people and process to create sustainable and elastic technology systems for years to come at Boise State.

Video Transcript: Max's Minute: The Cloud Is Core at Boise State

Hi, this is Max Davis-Johnson, Boise State University, Office of Information Technology.

Today I’m going to talk about the cloud. Almost four years to the month, I did a Max’s Minute on “The Clouds of Technology.” And in that, I introduced Boise State’s journey to the Cloud from a technology standpoint. I talked about criteria why we go to the cloud what we look at when we go to the cloud and I want to review those because those are still valid as we continue our cloud journey.

And then I want to talk a little bit about some of the things, what we’ve done in our journey so far.

Opportunities To Go To the Cloud

We look for opportunities to go to the Cloud. When we’re ready to upgrade a system, we look to see if there’s a cloud alternative. If we’re replacing a system, we look to see if there’s potentially a cloud alternative. And the answer is there are more and more cloud alternatives.

If we’re looking to do a major hardware investment, or something along those lines, we look to see, would it make more sense to spend this money, instead of buying hardware, to spend it on hardware “in the cloud.”

Cost of Ownership

Another thing that is always a big part of what we look at is cost. But now instead of just looking at the cost of the cloud itself, we also have to start looking at total cost of ownership. When we put a system here on premise, i.e, in our data center here at Boise State, sometimes we have to buy additional hardware, or we have to buy additional storage, maybe some networking requirements we need to do.

We have to have people that care and feed that hardware, that backend, whether it’s a database or the servers themselves. So that’s part of the total cost of ownership. That cost, the majority of the time, is reduced in the cloud, so you’re just paying for those cloud services. Again, it’s the idea, not only what does the cloud cost, but what is the total cost of ownership of a system?


Security is again a very strong consideration when we move things to the Cloud. I’ve said numerous times, the Cloud, technically, is more secure than what we can do here on the ground. There’s two aspects to the Cloud though, there’s the technical security, and then there’s how we use that security which we are still responsible for.

Features, Functionality, and Configurability

The other thing we look at too when we move to the cloud is features, functionality, configurability, and again, we want to be moving towards a product, if we’re moving the product to the cloud, that has more features, more functionality, and allows us to do the things we do.


And the last thing we want to make sure we can do is get data in a cloud product, and get data out of a cloud product. And this is a concept of integration basically. How can we tie all these systems together because we could have a system here at Boise State on the ground, we could have a system up in the cloud, and we need to talk to each other, we need to interact, we need to send data back and forth. They need to know that if I log into this system in the cloud, that again, I am a valid Boise State user. So we have to make sure we get that information back and forth between all those systems.

So that’s still the same criteria we look at when we do move to the cloud.

How We Leverage the Cloud

There’s two primary ways that we use the cloud here at Boise State. One is the concept of Software as a Service or SaaS. And we have many examples here on campus, Oracle Financial Cloud being one of the primary ones. Google being software as a service. Blackboard is now software as a service. And that is basically our path moving forward with our enterprise systems.

What’s nice about a cloud-based product is that they do the upgrades, they provide the infrastructure, all we do is configure and use the system.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

The other area we look at for the cloud is what we call infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and basically that is servers and storage in the cloud. We still manage those servers, we still manage the storage, but instead of being in our server, our physical servers on the ground, they are in the cloud.

Hybrid Cloud

Now Boise State is unique in what we call a hybrid cloud here at Boise State where it’s a combination of a public cloud, which is AWS, our own private cloud which is our virtual storage server infrastructure. This allows us elasticity. This allows us scalability. If a system gets stressed we can immediately add more servers and storage to it whether it’s here on premise or in the cloud. And the idea is that as Boise State we can seamlessly move from our private cloud to the public cloud, AWS, and, i.e., that’s our hybrid cloud.

The Cloud in Academics

Looking at classrooms, on the academic side of the house: many of our computer science courses, many technology courses, use AWS, and in some cases Azure, which is Microsoft’s Cloud service, to provide servers and storage for students as they go through their learning process.

We use AWS services to deliver content through web browsers to remote students of software that they would not have access to unless they were here on campus. A good example of that is our GIS Arc Info. We have engineering software that we teach, SolidWorks, that we also deliver through the cloud. All you need is a web browser to access this very complex software.

The Cloud and Research

From a research standpoint, a lot of times we get sponsoring agencies that have higher security requirements than what we can provide on campus. These are agencies like the Department of Health, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Energy. In that case we have to look to putting, doing research in a cloud-based research platform that is AWS as we move forward.

The Cloud Is Core

So we’re starting to use obviously cloud services all across the university in all different aspects: whether it’s administrative systems, academic systems, research, it’s providing the core foundation for much of what we do here on campus.

So, as you can see, we’ve come along way on our journey to the cloud, and we have a long way to go.

But the future’s so bright, we’re going to have to wear shades.

Until next time, bye.

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Max’s Minute is produced by the Office of Information Technology at Boise State University.

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