Taking the first step into the cloud can be daunting, and often brings up questions about security and back-up of data, but there’s a lot of great reasons to make the move. As well as the productivity benefits, the cost savings elements of embracing the cloud cannot be ignored. Think about how many times teachers print hand-outs or photocopy work for students in their class, how much your institution spends on licenses every year, or how long IT support spend ensuring the services are running as required.

There are a number of ways to approach cloud computing for education, from cloud storage to VLEs and  services such as Office 365, there’s really no reason not to join in and take advantage of these great anywhere working tools.

We’ll start with Office 365 for Education, which gives your institution everything it needs to fully embrace the cloud. Re-launched only last month, Office 365 Education plans provide you with enterprise-grade communication for all your users and industry-leading management capabilities for your IT.

How can it save your college money?

  • Free plans for education - Free email, document collaboration and productivity tools, presence/instant messaging, audio/video chat, and online document viewing and editing. For full details please see the Office 365 for education plans.
  • Support services - with a 99.9% uptime SLA, continuous data back-ups, robust disaster recovery capabilities and globally-redundant data centres, your data and services are always available. This frees up your IT support staff to manage your institution's infrastructure to help your school make the most of its resources.
  • Simple costs - As I mentioned earlier, think of all those staff who print out notes for their students. Over 1 year alone, you could save thousands on paper and ink costs, let alone anything else.
  • Licenses - The hosted, free service means you don't have to pay for licenses for each student and staff member, significantly reducing your yearly costs.
  • Energy - As with any large institution or company, colleges spend thousands of pounds every year on energy bills to keep their data centres running. By embracing the cloud, you no longer need large data centres on which students and staff store their files.
  • Upgrade option - Office 365 gives you the option to upgrade your plan to include the full Office suite, reducing licensing costs further.

With the majority of students today being part of 'Generation Y' it's important for colleges to embrace and encourage technology use in education, both during contact and personal study time. A virtual learning environment (VLE) is an essential step into the cloud for any college, and connects students and educators in a central, online learning environment. Microsoft's SharePoint 2013 is a easily managed learning platform which provides a single infrastructure for all your internal websites and allows users to share documents, collaborate on projects and publish information within a secure environment, which can be accessed from almost anywhere.

How will it help?

Amongst many productivity and collaboration benefits, SharePoint can make a real difference to your outgoing costs:

  • Simple costs - As above, you'll see a reduction in printing and paper costs as students and staff communicate and collaborate online.
  • Time - with SharePoint scale, performance and management capabilities, you get more time for innovation and less time managing infrastructure.
  • SkyDrive Pro - as part of SharePoint, each user gets 7GB of free storage with SkyDrive Pro, which provides you with a personal library for business where you can upload and access documents, photos, and other files from your computer. This SkyDrive Pro library is managed by your institution and, from there, you can easily share and collaborate on content with your peers. In addition, with the SkyDrive Pro client application, you can synchronize library files and folders with your local computer.

For an in-depth look at how SharePoint can be deployed in a college, check out Kentucky Community and Technical College System who used SharePoint to provide simplified access to data for over 100,000 students and 16 colleges across the state.