mhughes-4EDUCAUSE 2016, scheduled for late October in Anaheim, represents “the best thinking in higher education IT,” and attracts both IT professionals and technology providers from and for the diverse higher education market.

GovDataDownload had the opportunity to discuss higher education IT and EDUCAUSE with Marlon Hughes, NetApp’s Director of Systems Engineering for State, Local & Education, recently. Hughes shared how NetApp solutions allow higher education organizations to embrace and leverage today’s data-driven digital economy with a data fabric that provides secure and agile data management strategies. NetApp and Hughes have a long history serving the higher education space, so keep reading below to see what he had to say:

GovDataDownload (GDD): As we all know, EDUCAUSE is a major event for the higher education space. What makes this conference a must-attend on your list?

Marlon Hughes (MH): EDUCAUSE is one of the most important conferences to have face-to-face conversations with customers, industry peers and higher education thought leaders, all of whom will be under one roof thinking about strategies to enable the continuous advancement of higher education through information technology (IT). These are critical conversations, and this is a great conference to facilitate them.

GDD: Administrators at universities and colleges are entering a new era of IT, what challenges are they facing?

MH: Administrators are faced with the task of delivering more agile learning options while managing access to the new generation’s digital currency, which is data. So administrators are looking for ways to bring that all together for constituents while being responsible stewards of the data. This need is driving a requirement towards a data fabric that is elastic, secure and – honestly – robust to accelerate and enhance the learning collaboration that happens in physical as well as virtual campuses nowadays.

GDD: How does IT enable higher education administrators to support learning, teaching and research?

MH: Research is critical and today, more than ever, it is driven by data. In our data-consumption heavy environment it’s critical for administrators to be able to provide an agile, underlying fabric that enables easy, secure access to the data for the research community.. Within the research community, data creation and data analytics are driving explosive opportunities in higher education and allowing them to partner with industry to create the next generation of capabilities.

GDD: Data is so important, and it’s growing exponentially. How does NetApp help higher education with the data storage part of the puzzle?

MH: I like to refer to this area as data management, rather than storage. In today’s world, you need to be delivering a data management service. We help to facilitate data services, such as research or a traditional professor-student relationship, through our data fabric. The key to our data fabric is the back end of what I’ll call “data liquidity,” be it in a hybrid cloud architecture or through cloud connectivity, which is important when you have heavy data consumption through a variety of devices — smartphones, tablets and traditional laptops. You have to be able to give students and faculty access to data wherever it may be, either on premises or in the cloud. NetApp helps facilitate that “availablity” through the cloud or on premises.

GDD: Can you share a success story with us?

MH: The biggest success is the paradigm shift I’m seeing at numerous universities; that moment when they realize they’re going from being traditional data center managers to being “data service brokers.” This has a powerful impact and is a move from the thought that “we’re the data center guys, we offer up some traditional physical capabilities, components, et cetera,” to “we’re delivering a service and capabilities for the campus that enable the student-professor relationship and accelerate learning and other opportunities.” It’s no longer enough to provide the service and let the consumer figure it out. Today, higher education IT is about knowing how your constituents want to consume the data and then providing that capability quickly so they can move forward and do what they need to do.

Want to meet Marlon and the NetApp team?  They will be at booth 721/820 during EDUCAUSE.