The Academic Cloud

Do you know who’s protecting your cloud application data?

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeff Erramouspe

CREDIT SpanningCloud technology has forever changed how we work. Academic institutions have especially benefitted from the cloud, because it allows them to take advantage of economies of scale that are difficult to achieve with on-premises systems. Cloud technology, and especially software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, have also improved mobility and collaboration, as well as access to enterprise-grade solutions, without having to develop or maintain software in-house.

Google Apps and Office 365 have proved to be especially useful for educators, given their exceedingly affordable (and sometimes free) access to email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and cloud storage. These applications also boost student motivation and performance, as cloud-based products appeal to students’ affinity for

As of February 2016, more than 40 million students, teachers, and administrators reported using Google Apps for Education, including 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools and the majority of the top 100 universities in the US.

technology and meet their need for more social learning. By allowing teachers and students to access and edit content in real time, Google Apps and Office 365 support more interactive and collaborative learning environments. The numbers don’t lie: as of February 2016, more than 40 million students, teachers, and administrators reported using Google Apps for Education, including 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools and the majority of the top 100 universities in the US.

Cloud Application Risk Factors

While Google Apps and Office 365 serve as valuable tools for academic institutions to grow faster and collaborate more effectively, they also present some risks that aren’t always obvious to the user. Given the highly collaborative nature of SaaS-based solutions, users face the risk of data loss as a result of sync issues as well as accidental or intentional deletions. This could include anything from a professor accidentally deleting a grade spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, to a student inadvertently overwriting work from a team project stored in Drive, to a scheduled Google Apps data sync corrupting an entire year of lesson plan content.

Here’s another risk factor educators need to consider: applications like Google Apps and Office 365 don’t guarantee full restoration of lost data if an issue occurs on the user’s end. It could be a highly costly assumption that all cloud-based data is automatically backed up and restored. In reality, it’s often the responsibility of an organization’s IT department to fill in the data protection gaps by selecting a backup and recovery solution themselves.

Best Practices for Preventing Data Loss 

In order to ensure data availability and recover quickly in the event of a data loss event, academic institutions should seek out third-party SaaS backup and recovery solutions. These solutions should be both powerful enough to restore lost data and easy enough for end users (faculty and students) to use without needing to engage the IT department. It’s also crucial to understand that data protection is about more than just backing up cloud-based data.

Organizations need recovery plans in place to ensure data can be completely restored back to its original state. This includes the protection of metadata, which contains critical information such as sharing settings, labels, tags and ownerships. Without this, recoveries aren’t complete, because while your content may be restored, you’ll still require the folder location of that document or any tags associated with it, or which users have editing or viewing privileges.

It’s also critical to work with backup and recovery solution providers that can prevent issues before they occur by offering transparency into which users are experiencing issues and which files are unable to be backed up. This allows necessary adjustments to be made before it’s too late.

Perhaps the most crucial component of SaaS data protection, however, is the ability to seamlessly transfer ownership and restore data in shared documents even after an employee or student has left or been terminated. This capability eases the inevitable transition of documents and ownership when key employees (or students) change positions or leave an organization.

When data loss occurs, time and resources are wasted working with IT to get back to work and recover lost files. That’s time and resources few academic institutions can afford. Read the fine print for SaaS solutions like Google Apps and Office 365, and recognize that you are responsible for keeping your own data safe in the cloud. Leverage third-party backup and recovery solution providers for automated, daily data backups, and ensure your data can be swiftly accessed and recovered in any data loss scenario. Because once you have peace of mind about your cloud data, you’ll be able to focus on what matters most – preparing students for their future.

Jeff Erramouspe is Vice President and General Manager at Spanning.

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