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Webinar Recap: Unlocking the Power of Cloud Operations in Higher Education and Government

Marianna Noll

5 min read

Last updated on November 1st, 2023 at 4:51pm

We just wrapped a webinar with Andrew Marcontell, Executive Director of Solutions Engineering at Texas A&M, and our VP of Product, Shane Quinlan, where we covered the cloud operations challenges in higher education and state government. Shane and Andrew discussed how to overcome challenges in the cloud to build solutions that serve citizens and students cost-effectively and securely - while delivering value to their cloud project teams.

We’re sharing the full replay at the end of this post. But, first, a few key soundbites from Shane and Andrew.

The cloud shouldn’t be run by folks behind the curtain

Shane: “We need to make sure that we have folks who can get access when they need it, not a month after they join the organization, not a month after they get their research grant. As soon as they're ready to hit ‘go’, we want to make sure it's self-service. Successful cloud operations is not folks behind the curtain pushing tickets along.”

It’s time to build our cloud unicorns

Shane: “It’s challenging to find individuals with expertise across multiple cloud service providers. These "unicorns" are those rare individuals who possess in-depth knowledge of various cloud platforms, as well as the ability to build services to meet specific needs.

We must build more unicorns, and we have to make it easier to build them. We must be able to trust users to get into cloud systems, to learn how they work, and to start taking advantage of the technology without worrying that it's going to break our compliance regime, lead to insecurity, or spiral out of control with spend.”

Gatekeepers say ‘no’; guardrails say ‘have fun’ (with confidence)

Shane: “Gatekeepers say: you can't do this, you can't do that, you can't have access to that. You must go through me. Guardrails say: have fun, but you can't go outside the boundaries of the guardrails. Having this perspective changes the way you think about providing access to people and letting them innovate without actually running wild.

Put automation first when thinking about how to provide cloud as a service to your team who will use it to provide services to your customers, constituents, students, and researchers. And if you can't break anything, you can actually start to learn without the risk of failure.”

How the shift to cloud at TAMU is like the Stargate

Texas A&M (TAMU) is a large institution: 74,000+ students and an R1 Carnegie-classified research facility, denoting that it’s a doctorate-granting university with very high research activity. Research is a big reason behind the push to the cloud at TAMU, which started in 2020.

Notice the webinar background Andrew is sporting:

Andrew: “The background is a little bit of a reminder that part of the process is to transport users to a new way of doing business. So this is a Stargate, which comes from a show that was on Syfy network for a long time. The Stargate is a wormhole that takes you to a different part of the universe. I like to think of our journey at Texas A&M as really a journey into something new and not experienced before."

Of big importance to the TAMU team: choosing a financial management model that would help the team collect accurate information on users’ compute and usage for chargeback. This requires a high level of precision and accuracy.

As the scale of complexity grew within their cloud operations, it became more challenging to guard against fragility and see the big picture.

Andrew: “I had to go to one place to go to another place to go to another place to see all of these increasingly complex orchestration models.”

For a “single portal that could do orchestration, could do compliance, and do financial management,” TAMU evaluated native services and also looked at Kion.

“We were trying to use AWS Control Tower to manage some of our business structure with regards to different security controls in one business structure versus the other. And it turned out that the guardrails within Control Tower were not as flexible as we needed them to be. Kion abstracted that to allow us to provide different policies that were built on the same structure on all three [cloud service providers]. We now have an ability to apply business-level compliance controls in a multi-cloud capacity in a way that is abstracted and not vendor driven."

"It's all about creating better defaults, right? The value in this platform is that better defaults get us to that delivery of execution faster, more reliably, and more resiliently."

“ We wanted to have one common cloud experience. We wanted to use the same baselines and security postures, the same financial management, and the same account creation process among the multi clouds and do them in a one-capacity model, and Kion allows us to do that. ”

– Andrew Marcontell, Texas A&M

The goal is delivering value, not making cloud better

Shane: “It's not so much about making cloud better; that's not our core raison d'être as cloud operations professionals. We're here to serve the bigger mission. We always have resource constraints, but we have to make sure that the cloud works for us and works for the people that are working with us.

We talked about building expertise, but the flip of that is building value. And I know that the DevOps infinity symbol gets used and abused, but I think it's an excellent illustration to understand how CloudOps sits at the center of this loop between how we build value and how we build expertise to build more value, to build more expertise, to build more value, to build more expertise."

"At the center of that, what Kion enables you to do is set those guardrails to make sure that projects don't go over budget or stray out of compliance. And that enables users to experiment and practice without worrying or going back to those big, long checklists of all the things that must be done in order to maintain a compliance program.

For our users, Kion is that front door to the cloud. It gives you that context you need, but it lets you jump right into getting the work done."

Want to learn more about how Kion can help your cloud operations? Reach out to our team.

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About the Author

Marianna Noll

Marianna is the Senior Director of Marketing at Kion.

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