How to Choose the Right Cloud for Your Training Needs: General Purpose or Specialized?
Technology innovation is radically transforming online education. Where software training once had to take place in a central, physical classroom, the advent of the cloud frees students to learn from anywhere with an Internet connection.
But not all clouds are the same. Training organizations have two choices. They can choose to use one of the major commodity cloud services (such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure) and build their own online training environment. Or they can go with a specialist cloud service that provides an environment built specially for the needs of training organizations.
On the face of it, the solution may be immediately obvious: Go with a cloud built specifically for training. However, there are cases where a generalist option may, in fact, be the better choice.
A specialized training environment will provide rapid access to many features that are highly useful to both students and teachers. But what if you want to use your cloud environment for other activities besides training?
How do you decide when to use a specialist provider or when a general commodity cloud provider is really enough? It’s an important decision, so here are some questions to help guide you:
1. What are your budgeting needs?
If you do not need specialized training features, general cloud providers probably will be the less expensive option. However, if you want to have specialized training features, then you need to undergo a more detailed cost comparison that includes the cost of your own IT resources to build, test, and maintain the specialized training features you desire.
In addition, if clear visibility into your training lab costs is important, then specialized cloud providers can offer an advantage, especially if they offer an auto-suspend feature that stops billing after no usage is detected after a preset period of time. Not only do general cloud require you manually turn off environments to avoid being charged, they also charge for additional line items you may not have expected such as Disk IOPS, Data-Transfer, or Elastic IP addresses. Therefore, to get a clear handle on monthly expenses, a specialty cloud provider is more likely to be the better choice.
2. How complex are your training environments? How realistic do they need to be?
For simple, non-complex environments, a general commodity cloud service usually will be acceptable. If you are providing hands-on training on basic aspects of, say, an expense reporting tool, you probably won’t require a specialized provider. By contrast, if you are teaching partners how to deploy a sophisticated ERP system for your customers, specialized providers may be the only option that enables you to exactly recreate the kind of complex IT environment you need. The large commodity cloud providers do not support many advanced network features.
3. What level of interaction is required between students and teachers?
For basic training, an “automated” walkthrough will suffice. Investing in a specialized training platform only to use it for simple walkthroughs is potentially wasteful. If you want to provide one-to-one training or classroom environments in which the teacher is available to answer student questions and interact closely with them, however, a more specialized cloud probably will be more appropriate.
4. How much do you need to scale your training environments?
First, consider your business goals and the role training plays. Some organizations seek to increase the number of students attending classes. Other businesses aim to expand the diversity of courses they offer.
If the plan is to grow the number of students attending your lessons on a limited number of products, and you have IT resources available, simply build a targeted training module in the public cloud. By contrast, if your organization wants to rapidly expand the range and diversity of courses offered, a specialized education provider will scale much faster, enabling you to take advantage of prebuilt instructor consoles and customizable student consoles. By providing specialized training features out of the box, a specialized training lab provider allows you to focus your limited resources on new course content instead of on IT and administrative needs.
In a nutshell, here is the breakdown of the differences between general purpose clouds and specialty clouds for training:
Generalist providers works best when:
- Requirements for hands-on training are limited and straightforward.
- The organization only needs to provide a simple IT environment for training.
- The organization doesn’t require dedicated training features.
- The organization has the time and IT resources to build specialized training features on its own.
Specialist providers work best when:
- Training requires features designed specifically for the training and learning experience.
- The organization needs to launch cloud-based labs as soon as possible.
- Students need to train on highly complex networks that are difficult or impossible to be replicated on general cloud providers.
- Limited resources mandate that training managers devote their resources to improving training content rather than on IT and administrative requirements.
- The business needs clear cost structure and built-in cost control features such as auto-suspend that shut down machines automatically when not in use.
It is important to reiterate that, technically, many of the activities outlined above can be accomplished using either “general” infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers or specialized training solutions. However, creating a complex, highly interactive environment with a general provider will require extensive and costly development, so for businesses wanting to provide more sophisticated training without going over budget, a specialized training solution usually will be the best option.
When it comes to providing cloud-based training, specialized tools are generally the preferable option. They give instructors a great degree of flexibility, and embedded features allow them to be more productive, so organizations also benefit from scalability and cost effectiveness.
Michal Frenkel is director of Product at CloudShare. She is responsible for translating CloudShare’s vision into reality and making sure customers get the best product experience possible. Frenkel has more than 10 years’ experience in product management for cloud products. She holds an MSc in Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.