Internet2 Adds Dell, Microsoft, and Others to Cloud-Services Program for Colleges

Last fall, Internet2 began helping colleges drive down the price of cloud computing by negotiating group deals between its members and technology companies. The collective-bargaining project is now expanding to include new partnerships with firms including Dell and Microsoft, the group announced today.

The effort, known as Internet2 Net+ Services, brings together companies offering cloud services and the nonprofit consortium’s 221 member colleges. Internet2’s leaders say the program lets administrators save money by taking advantage of their collective buying power, and it gives them an organized method of selecting tools for their institutions. The first companies to sign on were the technology giant HP and the online file-storage service Box, which announced their participation in October. Today’s additions include prominent companies such as Dell and Microsoft, whose cloud platforms will support collaborative research projects on Internet2′s high-speed-network backbone.

H. David Lambert, Internet2’s president and chief executive, said it was a “big lift” to get colleges and vendors to work together in this collective manner at first, because the Net+ Services model is a drastic departure from the way colleges are used to negotiating individual contracts with technology providers. But, he added, once administrators saw the potential cost savings of these deals, they told him they wanted the project to expand even faster.

Mr. Lambert said that in adding technology companies to its stable of partners, Internet2 is not in the business of “picking winners.” Instead, he said the goal is to change the relationship between technology consumers and providers so that colleges don’t have to hammer out separate deals with scores of different suppliers. He added that in a few years, small institutions might be able to find a complete set of campus technologies in the Net+ Services catalog.

Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft U.S. Education, said the bandwidth costs of moving data over commercial networks can be expensive for researchers, so his company will waive the fees associated with moving chunks of data into and out of its cloud platform. Right now, he said, it’s cheaper for researchers to throw their information “in the back of a truck and drive it to the data center” than it is to move it digitally. Microsoft will charge researchers only for the time they spend computing their data on the high-speed network, he said.

Other additions to the project include Aastra and Level 3 Communications, which will team up to offer colleges a cloud-based alternative to campus phone services. Evogh, a technology firm based in California, will offer Internet2 members a video-collaboration tool for as many as 50 participants at a time.

For Michael A. McRobbie, president of Indiana University and the vice chair of Internet2’s Board of Trustees, the deals offer other benefits besides just cheaper prices: Colleges taking advantage of the Internet2 project won’t have to sink money into supporting expensive systems that have been customized for their own campuses.

“Not only will it save us directly on what it would have cost us to do it individually, it also saves us the money that we might need to invest if we were to develop this technology for ourselves,” he said.

Jerry Grochow, interim vice president of Internet2 Net+ Services, described a four-stage process for offering cloud-based products to his group’s members. The early-stage ideas will go into a research-incubator program, in which small teams at colleges work with a vendor to determine how a product could be useful in campus settings. From there, the products will be fine-tuned to the specific needs of colleges, and then made available to a small group of early adopters. Finally, they will be offered to the entire membership.

The two services introduced last fall have been made widely available, and the products joining the effort today are spread out across all four phases of development.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by supertin]

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