Colleges and universities generate, share, and store data at incredible rates, and managing that data is a real challenge.  To understand the impact of these challenges, I refer frequently to the annual EDUCAUSE Top IT Issues report.

Reviewing the 2016 list, the top five show corollary between the top IT issues facing all of higher education and the impact they have in terms of IT infrastructure, including storage and data management. The first 2016 Top IT Issue is information security, which isn’t a higher education-only top issue. We see it across multiple industries and verticals as a top-of-mind concern. Institutions are asking themselves how do I protect myself from attackers? How do I keep my data secure? How can I invest in the cloud confidently, knowing that I am putting my most critical institutional asset – my data – in someone else’s infrastructure or on someone else’s storage platform?

In thinking about information security with respect to storage and data management, institutions should have a strategy around encryption, not only in transit, but also at rest. Institutions should be implementing data storage technologies that give them the flexibility to encrypt their workloads and data without paying a penalty in performance.

Another information security priority is the secure separation of workloads and data sets. More and more higher education institutions have a shared, private cloud infrastructure, so they need to be able to run different workloads on a common and shared physical infrastructure while using software and logical controls to keeping that data secure and separate. Institutions must have products that offer security for storage in a multi-tenancy environment or offer the ability to put role-based access control around institutional data sets.

Just one example where this is important is around providing infrastructure around grant projects, which are very common in higher education. Researchers need to be able to maintain security for a grant project and all of its associated data while also keeping it securely and logically separate from all the other initiatives, from administrative data, academic data, or data for other grant projects.

The second 2016 Top IT Issue, according to EDUCAUSE, is optimizing educational technology. Institutions must support traditional IT workloads, such as email, database workloads, virtualization, and file-sharing. At the same time, they must be able to address new applications that require next-generation technology and revolve around social media, mobile/Internet of Things (IoT) applications, analytics, as well as hybrid cloud technologies. An example of how colleges and universities are optimizing new technologies is in the area of data analytics is to improve financial aid processing. For some potential students, if they cannot get financial aid, they cannot continue their education. As a result, institutions are using analytics to look at ways to increase the total number of financial aid awards, decrease the time it takes to grant an award, increase individual amounts of awards and – at the same time – reduce fraud in the financial aid process.

We are also seeing analytics play a role in EDUCAUSE’s third Top IT Issue, which is student success technologies. Institutions are asking how they can ensure they are supporting students effectively toward graduation in a timely manner. Many are using learning management systems, through which they can tie analytics to track engagement of students and see which students are engaged and which are not. With that information, they can —even before a student has received a bad grade—  proactively reach out to disengaged students and ask “What do we need to do to get you back on track?”

EDUCAUSE’s fourth Top IT Issue is around IT workforce hiring and retention. A lot of the work around this is happening through the community and technical colleges. NetApp sees the importance in this and created the NetApp Academic Alliance Program, with which NetApp provides (at no cost) content for workforce training programs and academic courses on enterprise technology, data center technology or enterprise data storage management. Through this program, institutions have had success in training the workforce or keeping the workforce up to speed in new enterprise data storage management technologies.

Wrapping up with the fifth Top IT Issue in the 2016 EDUCAUSE list is institutional data management, which is a continuing challenge as the amount of data that colleges and universities must oversee continues to grow at an incredible rate. NetApp can help them simplify their data management platform, whether the data is in a college/university private data center or in a public cloud environment. NetApp also helps institutions transition to flash which dramatically increases the performance of IT services and applications, while significantly reducing data center environmental costs.

For all of these Top IT issues, institutions should be working with trusted advisors to help navigate not only the challenges, but also the solutions that will provide effective solutions to secure and manage their data.

Check back in mid October to learn what NetApp will be showcasing at Educause’s annual conference. Or why not subscribe to get the latest data management and storage news delivered to your inbox.