Non-profit IT service provider Eduserv has announced the launch of its Education Cloud, giving universities and colleges in the UK access to storage and processing power on demand.

The Education Cloud enables higher education institutions to increase and decrease capacity throughout the academic year, to deal with peaks and troughs in demand. It features compute and storage offerings under both VMware vCloud and OpenStack, and supports virtual machines running Windows and Linux.

The cloud platform is hosted from Eduserv's data centre in Swindon, which is built on a UCS infrastructure with Isilon storage and 10Gb Cisco networking throughout. It has direct connectivity to the JANET backbone, providing fast access to UK's education and research network.

The new solution is part of the University Modernisation Fund's Cloud Pilot which has been developed with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and the Joint Information System Committee (JISC). The Cloud Pilot was originally developed to host the software-as-a-service (SaaS) projects being undertaken at several UK higher education institutions.

According to Andy Powell, Eduserv's research programme director, universities are starting to look at cloud computing as a way to deal with huge peaks in demand during certain times of the year, such as clearing and graduation. This is in contrast to the summer months, when most students are on holiday.

“IT directors in universities are typically already running vSphere in-house and want to extend that into the cloud, either to just give them additional resource, or possibly as a DR (data recovery) facility, or possibly just to burst out into the cloud at times of peak demand,” said Powell.

He explained that Eduserv is currently focusing on delivering VMware vCloud, because VMware is already used widely within in the education community, so it is relatively easy to migrate virtual machines from local infrastructure into the cloud. However, the organisation eventually also wants to offer OpenStack, which can be provided at a lower price point because there are no licensing costs.

“That we see primarily being of more interest to individual researchers – so researchers who have requirements for large-scale compute, or perhaps for storage in the cloud, or perhaps for both,” said Powell.

The Education Cloud has two pricing models: Pay-as-you-go and “Virtual Datacentre”. The pay-as-you-go model allows institutions to pay for what they use, so if a university has periods of high demand followed by periods of low demand, then its monthly billing will peak and trough in response to that.

“From their point of view that's quite a good thing,” said Powell. “They're not having to provision enough resource to cover the peaks in demand that then sit idle during the troughs.”

The Virtual Datacentre option, meanwhile, allows universities to pay a flat monthly rate. Those that are willing to commit upfront to a year's worth of a certain amount of compute resource and a certain amount of storage will get a discount on Eduserv's pay-as-you-go pricing for committing upfront.

“We think directors of IT, or IT service departments in institutions, are probably more likely to be interested in the more predictable Virtual Datacentre model, whereas individual researchers are more likely to just want resource when they need it and not pay for it at any other time, and therefore they're more likely to go for a pay-as-you-go model,” said Powell.

The Education Cloud is already hosting four university SaaS pilot projects – two in Oxford, one in Leicester and one in Southampton. Liverpool University's Digital Academic Record Exchange (DARE) project, which aims to make certain documents available to employers securely, is also hosted on the Education Cloud.

While Eduserv's cloud platfom is initially targeted at higher education in the UK, it is built on the organisation's community cloud infrastructure, which is much more broadly applicable. Eventually,  Eduserve wants to offer community clouds in other areas, such as government, charity and health.

“By selling cloud services across education, government, other charities, health, ultimately we'll be able to realise much bigger economies of scale than we could do if we were just selling to UK education,” added Powell.