In Flight: Jon Allen Moves Baylor University’s Computing to the Cloud

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By John McCormack, Writer, NET+ Program

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Cloud Superhero Spotlight

Editor’s Note: As Volunteer Appreciation Month comes to a close, we’re kicking off a series of interviews spotlighting the wonderful contributions that research and higher ed community members make to the NET+ Program. Be on the lookout for additional interviews, and email amotley@internet2.edu if there’s a Cloud Superhero you would like us to spotlight in the future. We’re grateful for all our volunteers and appreciate all they do to move our work forward.
—Sean O’Brien – Associate Vice President, NET+, Internet2

Almost a decade ago, Jon Allen, CIO and CISO at Baylor University, contracted to use a cloud-hosted identity management system. “A lot of my peers thought I was crazy. They were like: ‘What are you doing putting the keys to the kingdom in the cloud?’” Allen recalled.

Allen told his colleagues that stepping into this relatively new computing territory did not scare him. He then quickly drew an analogy from his personal life to illustrate why he felt so confident. Allen explained that he rides a Harley Davidson 2003 Road King Classic. And, while he enjoys the thrill of riding, he also knows that he needs to take care of his cherished bike.

“When I need my Harley Davidson worked on, I don’t just go down the street to any mechanic who works on anything with wheels. I find someone who really knows how to work on Harleys,” Allen said. Indeed, he took the same approach when moving to the cloud with that initial application. He found a specialist who had the expertise to handle a specific software system in the cloud. Fortunately, executing this strategy has become easier over the years, as more vendors now offer specific services in the cloud.

As such, in addition to the identity management system, Allen has leveraged the cloud to host a learning management platform, a human resources system, and financial management software. “Our entire suite of administrative operations now lives in the cloud,” he said.

Jon Allen
Fun Facts About Jon
Number of Years in Current Role: CIO for five years, CISO for 12 years
Total Years at Institution/Organization: 24 years
What You Like Most About Your Job: It’s different every day
Favorite Song or Book: Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella
Best Advice About the Cloud You Ever Received (& from whom): The true cost in cloud service is the exit, not the upfront costs. The advice came from a group of colleagues. 

Allen has also become an advocate for the cloud in the higher ed community. He is a leader for the Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Toolkit (HECVAT) project for cloud security and is deeply involved in the Internet2 Cloud Scorecard, NET+ Splunk program, and the EDUCAUSE Higher Education Information Security Council. Allen also regularly presents at conferences, serves on program committees, and participates in other community activities.

Benefits of the Cloud for R&E

With his experience as a cloud trailblazer, Allen can certainly attest to the many benefits of the cloud for the research and education community. To start, the cloud makes it possible to do more with less in-house staff overall. In addition, IT departments can focus in on unique organizational needs. 

“About 80 to 90% of any institution’s operation is pretty standard. The other 10 to 20% is unique. Those unique areas might center on research or the way you handle your learning and academic side. That’s where the focus should be. The focus should not be running the core email system for the university. That’s a commodity,” Allen noted.

In addition, when hosting applications in the cloud, it’s easy to update software frequently. When programs were running on-premises, “nobody was upgrading their software every month or every other week or every quarter,” Allen said.

Perhaps most importantly, the cloud facilitates collaboration. With on-premise systems, “you couldn’t ever really benefit from collaborating with peers because the platforms weren’t really the same,” Allen said. “Now if I reach out to a peer institution, they’re often running the same cloud platform that I’m running, so we can talk about it.”

 The Value of NET+

Allen also observed that leveraging Internet2’s NET+ Program can help research and education institutions take advantage of the cloud. 

“Baylor is still one of the top subscribers to NET+ services,” Allen said. “For us, as a private institution, the standardization of contract terms is critical. I don’t have the same leverage that a public institution has when it comes to contract negotiations and pricing.”

With NET+ it’s also much easier to identify high-quality cloud-based software solutions that address specific needs. Perhaps most important, it empowers collaboration in the higher ed community.

“We have this significant problem in higher education, NET+ helps us solve it,” Allen said. “It’s a very unique collaboration across Internet2 that supports significant community involvement and has produced something that really has become lightning in a bottle – a true collaborative. So that’s what I love: Finding those areas where we can collaborate and come up with solutions.”