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Conceptualising Resources-aware Higher Education Digital Infrastructure through Self-hosting: a Multi-disciplinary View

Published onJun 21, 2022
Conceptualising Resources-aware Higher Education Digital Infrastructure through Self-hosting: a Multi-disciplinary View
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ABSTRACT

As higher education digitalises, institutions increasingly outsource the development and management of their digital infrastructure including server hardware and services such as email, shared storage, and video conferencing, to private companies. This outsourcing trend is a change in paradigm, since universities have historically been pioneers in deploying and maintaining their own digital infrastructure, a practice also known as self-hosting. Digital infrastructure has a key role in all of a university’s functions: administration, research, and education. While outsourcing infrastructure has benefits in the form of convenience and lower costs, it also erodes institutional independence, centralises points of failure, and delegates highly relevant value choices about privacy, data ownership and environmental impact to external actors. In this article, we provide a first quantification of a potential return to self-hosting, emphasising its effect in energy reduction and avoided e-waste. We then outline some policy actions that could enable higher education institutions to re-take control over their digital infrastructure by building local services. This mode of operation reduces waste, and has the added benefit of increased resilience to scenarios of resource scarcity and collapse of external infrastructure. As an example of what could be achieved leveraging these policies, we detail the architecture of a low-impact data centre made of upcycled hardware and resource-aware software. By exploring our main structural choices we aim to showcase how, even starting from a generally heavy-weight software stack such as Kubernetes, there is significant space to reduce digital infrastructure’s overall resource footprint.

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