NCI Cloud Competency Centre - Setting up HE ICT Infrastructure with Good Practices


Dr Horacio González-Vélez - NCI

Widely adumbrated as the logical successor of the Internet, cloud computing entails the interchange of data and computational resources across global networks. It constitutes a new value-added paradigm for network computing, where higher efficiency, massive scalability, and speed rely on effective software development and seamless resource management. Cloud computing is rapidly becoming a popular infrastructure choice among all types of organisations, not least higher education. Despite some initial security concerns and technical issues, an increasing number of educational institutions are considering moving their applications and services into “The Cloud.

In this position paper, we present a case study on the conception and deployment of the new Cloud Competency Centre at the National College of Ireland. The NCI Cloud Competency Centre features dedicated state-of the art facilities to support comprehensive evaluation, grassroots incubation, and seamless adoption of cloud technologies for didactic, commercial, and research purposes. The Centre’s purposeful settings are designed to foster innovative thinking to fully harness the potential of cloud computing. The main activities of the Centre consist of academic and training programmes, executive education, research programmes, entrepreneurship and business incubation. The Centre differentiates itself through postgraduate programmes delivered using a problem solving approach (with reference to relevant industry and research problems) taught by expert academic and industry faculty. By adopting an innovative hybrid cloud reference architecture, we have created a simple and readily available infrastructure to support teaching and research with great overall system efficiency.

In this work, we have put particular emphasis on the description of the Centre’s ICT infrastructure. We believe that the essential technical characteristics to support the research and teaching of cloud computing are as follows: access to private cloud assets, role-based access to virtualisation technologies, metered access to public cloud platforms, and provisioning/identity management. However, a critical point in the success of this endeavour is related to the sociotechnical approach adopted. As a core component of the work for this Centre, NCI has recognised the importance of the interaction between technology and people with different backgrounds and objectives. Whilst academics are concerned on performance and flexibility, ICT managers are constrained by costs and staffing.

Through the Centre’s facilities, students and faculty have seamless access to modern cloud infrastructure hardware and enterprise software from leading vendors and open source communities. Access to private and public services is role-based and implemented using NCIs current identity management solutions. The Centre has active membership in a number of academic alliance programmes of mainstream cloud software vendors and public cloud providers such as the VMware academic alliance programme, Amazon Web Services for education, and Microsoft Azure–Dreamspark. We strongly believe that the Centre is well posed to take advantage of any future public cloud offerings.

In conclusion, it is arguable that the successful deployment of all cloud infrastructure at NCI Cloud Competency Centre has been a concerted effort between academics and ICT management with a significant involvement of key industrial partners.