The Berkeley Cloud Strategy

February 2, 2019

I wanted to share a brief overview of UC Berkeley's Cloud Strategy so that anyone can get a sense of it in a few minutes. The most important takeaway is that it directs our focus always to be "University First".  As a campus, we must invest in technology that meets the needs of the campus mission for our faculty, students, and administration -- rather than focusing on technology first or "Cloud First".

...for example, in a meeting of Deans, the conversation should start by asking "How can we accelerate the pace of our research and tackle problems that today seem impossible?" We should not lead with "What should we do with cloud computing?" An administrator seeking to automate the management of a business process should first ask: "How can we transform a function (such as student advising, enrollment, travel reimbursement) to make everyone's experience better, faster, and cheaper?"

Many of the concepts that underpin the public cloud originated with work by Berkeley faculty and labs here on campus, so it was with some great caution and humility that I laid out this strategy for the University back in 2017.  At that time I also recognized that many of us in IT and other campus units had long been taking thoughtful, concrete steps toward moving administrative and academic services to various flavors of cloud technology.  I titled the 2017 document "UC Berkeley's Future-Looking Cloud Strategy" to focus on what was coming.  The result was eight pages, focused on what I believe are the most important areas for the University to consider and address. Along the way I had a lot of help -- thoughtful input from a Cloud Strategy Working Group and support from IT leadership to integrate the strategy and approach into our Reimagining IT planning project. While "University First" implies a pragmatic approach to employing the best technology for the job, we also must be aware of the trends to avoid getting the University boxed in or left behind-- in other words we need to focus on the long-term as well as the project-to-project technology decisionmaking.

The IT services market is in the middle of a multi-year shift to cloud delivery from on-premises datacenters. Berkeley has a mature datacenter, financial constraints and other factors that influence the timing of our strategy. Our goal has been to move to cloud solutions opportunistically when such moves make sense financially to Berkeley. When considering any technical solution, as a part of analysis, we should always explore whether a cloud solution (especially SaaS) is available and whether it makes sense for our business requirements and financial models. But we must think first about UC Berkeley's mission and business needs. So, for example, in a meeting of Deans, the conversation should start by asking "How can we accelerate the pace of our research and tackle problems that today seem impossible?" We should not lead with "What should we do with cloud computing?" An administrator seeking to automate the management of a business process should first ask: "How can we transform a function (such as student advising, enrollment, travel reimbursement) to make everyone's experience better, faster, and cheaper?"

Berkeley will continue to move applications and infrastructure to the cloud, and to transform our operations with automation. These strategic moves will help the University avoid being saddled with what will be expensive and disjointed legacy technologies down the road. You can become more familiar with the strategy and get a high level view of background, strategy and rationale in UC Berkeley’s Future-Looking Cloud Strategy (PDF).

-Bill Allison, UC Berkeley CTO