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AI / Storage

AI Pushes Universities to Modernize IT Infrastructure

Higher education researchers and students need powerful IT infrastructure to tackle the world’s most-pressing issues.
Dec 15th, 2023 6:07am by
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Universities have always been our collective hubs of education and research, where future leaders engage in exploration, experimentation and discovery. While this still rings true today, the learning experience for students looks radically different than it did 10 years ago. Gone are the days of traditional learning tools. Students are increasingly letting go of their once-trusted lifelines (thank you for your service, SparkNotes!) and now seek the best tools and resources — like generative AI — to fuel their research.

Typically, educational institutions operate with a lean IT staff and tight budgets to match. With the changing learning landscape, IT teams often struggle to manage and maintain the vast amounts of data needed for the advanced learning capabilities that attract students and researchers. Within these institutional walls, data is the fundamental element that shapes every aspect of learning. It’s now up to universities to break new ground in their data infrastructure to offer advanced technological capabilities that can be leveraged at speed and scale for researchers and students.

How AI Is Shaping University Research with a Modern Infrastructure

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic spurred the gravitation toward online learning technologies. Still, the convenience and accessibility of those technologies have created new demands for higher-quality and customizable learning experiences in higher education. According to data from McKinsey, 60% of students report that classroom learning technologies such as generative AI, machine learning and supercomputing have improved their learning and grades since COVID-19 began.

In addition to using AI in classrooms, institutions can implement AI solutions in their IT decision-making to create a reliable, secure data infrastructure. As AI becomes more mainstream in higher education operations, universities can better understand, invest and apply AI-specific solutions to their IT needs. While investing in AI and the technology to support it, universities can improve operations, offering faster innovation and better student, faculty and researcher experiences.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) recognized the pivotal role of supercomputing in advanced multidisciplinary research. Known for its chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue, which was the first computer to win a game against a reigning world chess champion, NTU has been developing successful AI models since the early 1990s. Since then, NTU has been a trailblazer in the AI space, investing in pivotal research to advance the technology.

However, to continue pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration, the university required more storage space for its High-Performance Computing Centre’s growing supercomputing resources. To help researchers accelerate a broader range of projects and free up computing space, university IT leaders adopted an all-flash storage system that could scale up performance while lowering I/O latency. NTU’s research teams, particularly in biological sciences, harnessed this enhanced computing power to analyze the genomes of over 1,000 plant species in one week — which would otherwise have taken the team 20 years to complete.

With demand for advanced technological offerings at universities becoming commonplace, IT teams face new challenges under small budgets. Many require modern IT infrastructure to support increasingly large datasets required for groundbreaking insights from research teams. To prioritize the protection of sensitive personal information that research teams manage, universities must invest in customized data protection systems that will fit their specific needs.

For example, the IT team at Chapman University struggled with a legacy storage system where disk storage consumed large amounts of space and power. This increased the time required for routine management and the effort needed to clone databases for development and testing. Once the university’s IT team invested in a subscription-based flash storage system, they maximized storage speed and performance at scale and reduced the time spent on data replication tasks from 12 hours to just 10 minutes. More importantly, professors can analyze enormous datasets using advanced computer models and publish their findings in record time.

The Right Infrastructure Needed to Build Tomorrow’s Classrooms

Academic researchers require advanced technology to tackle some of the world’s most-pressing issues, such as climate change or the opioid crisis. For their part, universities require accelerated reporting, nondisruptive upgrades and simplified data management that can contribute to advancing academic research and innovation.

Chapman University is at the forefront of using technological innovations to enhance the student experience: The university established an AI hub to create an ethical framework around AI usage on the campus.

Similarly, Bryant University has taken technological progress in stride as an early adopter of generative AI. Recently, the institution committed to fostering cutting-edge research and enhancing educational practices through a new research collaboration. “Making AI Generative for Higher Education” is a two-year study in partnership with higher-ed consulting firm Ithaka S+R to provide guidelines and guardrails around the use of generative AI at colleges and universities. As a part of the study, Bryant University will evaluate its campus’s readiness to leverage AI technology in education, including assessing its current IT infrastructure.

As higher education continues to undergo a transformative shift, universities are embracing innovations like AI to attract new students, enhance their learning experiences and uncover new research breakthroughs. University IT teams must evaluate their infrastructure readiness to meet these high data demands. With a modern infrastructure capable of accelerating learning and research, the academic community stands on the brink of new possibilities waiting to be discovered.

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