K-12 Cloud Primer

What school districts need to consider when thinking virtualization and cloud.

GUEST COLUMN | by Hudson Denney

CREDIT Net3 TecyhnologyK-12 institutions find themselves in an interesting predicament today with regard to technology and the delivery of services that both students and parents demand.  To better paint the picture, so many school districts have been dealing with budget cuts, a rapidly shrinking tax base, increased regulations and security needs, as well as ridiculously thin staffs that have to support everything from projectors and smartboards, to SAN infrastructures.  It comes as no surprise that schools are behind the technology curve in quite a dramatic fashion.

  • K-12 Schools are incredibly behind from a technology perspective due to a multitude of forces

The effects of being in constant catch up mode have more impact today than in any other time in technology.  Ten years ago if you found yourself behind in technology you could have the city/county levy a bond and buy a mix of hardware and software and you would be off to the races.  Today nothing could be further from the truth.  It takes a new approach to get back on track.

  • Throwing money at the problem will not fix it

In case you hadn’t noticed, students are extremely tech savvy and are demanding infrastructures and systems that will support their needs/wants/desires.  We have coined a phrase called the “consumerization effect” of technology that is very evident in schools today.  It used to be that business would push technology trends into the home, think PC.  Not the case today, think BYOD, tablets, and smartphones.  Schools now need extremely robust infrastructures to handle the devices that students are using to learn, to do research, to do homework, and to surf the Internet.  Multicasting, bandwidth constraints, and security are all concerns today and let’s remember that we need to accommodate these new technologies with the existing thin staff in place and minimum to no budget.

  • The problem is not getting any less complex

School boards now usually want to make sure that all the students’ information and district information is backed up, redundant, and recoverable in a moments notice.  Oh by the way, it all has to be secure, and they don’t want to throw any/very little money your way to make this happen.  Their business has a DR/Continuity plan so this should be easy to knock out with the existing resources and staff in place.

  • The demands will not reduce anytime soon, and the board will not take “no” for an answer

There is good news in all the issues presented above but it will require a shift in the mentality of our learning institutions in order to harness the solutions.  While technology is changing at a break neck speed it is getting incredibly efficient which will allow thin staffs to leverage incredible resources, if they position themselves correctly.

Where to begin? A simple guide for school districts:

  • Embrace virtualization technologies

Reduce technology footprint, reclaim underutilized capacity and compute resources, reduce maintenance overheads, and decouple the host application from the hardware it resides on with these technologies.  Virtualization also builds the roadmap/foundation for leveraging other solutions that we will discuss in subsequent points.

  • Don’t fear the Cloud

Schools tend to shy away from cloud technologies and with good reason, they are either not understood or they are not obtainable.  Virtualization is the key to getting to the cloud and all that it has to offer.  When the cloud is used correctly it offers up a hybrid solution that will give a school the following:

  • Reduced Technology Footprint
  • On demand compute, storage, and processing resources
  • Robust test/dev environments
  • Relieving pressure on in-house IT services
  • Reducing internal hardware and software requirements
  • Streamlining your IT capabilities cost-effectively
  • Increasing agility and efficiency
  • Boosting reliability without compromising security
  • Providing backup and disaster recovery
  • Ability to spin up specific services in minutes instead of weeks

With the advantages in mind we do need to think through the process to ensure success.  Not all applications are cloud ready or meant to be in the cloud.  It’s very important that staff be trained on both virtualization technologies and on cloud technologies.  Schools should do their due diligence carefully and find a cloud provider that offers up environments that are specifically designed for education environments.

  • Training is a Must!

Too often training on new technology is ignored or put on the back burner but there is not enough emphasis that can be placed on how important it is to get training.   Virtual and Cloud environments are incredibly scalable, flexible, resilient, and different than bare metal.  To be successful here you will need staff that understands how to make the technology work for your district.  Allocate the time to get this right and make sure you have more than just one subject matter expert.  Lack of training can end up costing a district much more in the long run.

  • Don’t go at this alone

Find a Virtualization and Cloud technology partner that understands the unique needs of academic institutions and is trustworthy enough to get the job done.  Previously we mentioned that you should be autonomous and independent to run the solutions, but this does not assume a district’s IT department will have the manpower to get their systems 100 percent there.  For districts that don’t have the manpower, or for complex systems, there comes the time to reach out to a technology partner for support.  Again it is important to find one that understands schools.

Virtualization and Cloud technologies are not meant for every application and be wary of any potential partner who believes so – they are wrong.  We even find that applications that work in the cloud for some schools don’t work for others due to the way they are setup, deployed, or used – every case is different.

Upgrading a district’s technology and moving to a virtualization or cloud platform doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking.  There are good and affordable solutions on the market for every budget.  It’s important to assess what you have, what needs upgrading, what new features are necessary to include, is the staff trained, and how to supplement the areas that are lacking.  It’s task that needs to be taken seriously and thoughtfully because a fancy expensive platform may be the very wrong thing to address your needs.  Take proper assessment and careful consideration to build your IT.

Hudson Denney is the President and founder of Net3 Technology.

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