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Why Schools Go to the Cloud for School Data Management

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Posted by Eric Fulkert
May 5, 2016 12:17:26 PM

Do your teachers write their own textbooks? Does your cafeteria lady grow her own potatoes? So why should your school IT department maintain its own datacenters, servers, firewalls, and security? School data management is undergoing a sea change.

Well, time was when power users of electricity generated their own electricity. Those days, save for some some lumber mills I know of who actually sell their surplus electricity, have gone the way of the smokestack.

There are reasons why we’re not all generating our own electricity. Similarly, there are reasons why your school should be looking closely at the cloud for managing its data.

In his book, The Big Switch,  Nicholas Carr compares the rise of the computer industry to the electric industry. (I suggest every school IT manager read Carr’s book.) Computing is turning into a utility, says Carr.

He points out how power and computers have the ability to be metered, and when Nicholas Tesla invented alternating current (AC), a new industry was born – selling units of electricity.

The rise of the internet is computing’s AC moment. Carr's vision was that CPU, memory, and data space will be sold as metered resources.  This concept is what we now call the cloud, where people pay others to handle the "generation" cost of computer resources.

The true cost to schools not in the cloud

Maintaining datacenters, servers, firewalls, and security is a major task for any organization, which is why Google, Amazon Web Services and other cloud-based solutions make sound economic sense– especially to schools.

I have run servers and datacenters for much of my entire adult career. Keeping them running is expensive when you compare the CPU, memory, and disk units. We use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to power Campus Suite. We don't buy servers, but pay for the actual use of CPU, memory, and disk units. In our previous version, Campus Suite "generated its own electricity" for our platform.

There’s a huge flaw in “generating your own electricity” for your school. To power your own house, for example, you need to buy a large enough generator that has amperage to run all your gadgets at peak demand. You pay for the peak, but don't use the average output. This approach generates a lot of waste. We want to pay for averages, not peaks.

As educators, can we continue to invest in servers and datacenters? The costs are higher, and the benefits become lower every day. The cloud lets us have access to computer power on a “pure-use” approach. We pay only for what we use.

Doing it yourself is also not as nearly secure as, say, Google or Amazon Web Services. It’s only natural that IT professionals feel safe with servers and datacenters onsite. There is a sense of security being able to touch and feel the equipment that holds our data. The safety of onsite servers, however, is false.

When we “generate our own” power, we have a single point of failure. The power grid offers us many sources, delivered. Onsite servers rarely match the cloud. Do you have failover servers, or can a single failure kill your

"Onsite datacenters are the smokestacks of the 21st century...We need to move from maintaining servers to helping education become efficient."

website, grades, or email? Are your servers secure? As an IT professional, I know that few system admins watch detailed security. Security requires people dedicated to the task.

Onsite datacenters are the smokestacks of the 21st century. We generated power in-house before we found the safer, more efficient method – the cloud.

Schools are slowly moving to the cloud

While schools are hesitant to adopt the cloud for total data solutions, the cloud is bringing change to many facets of education: website hosting, online collaboration, Google Apps for Education, Office 365 for Education, and much more. In data management, the battle around onsite vs the cloud is working itself out as we speak.

As IT professionals, we need to accept the cloud. Vetted vendors can deliver us computer power and security better than we can. We need to focus on what we do with the power. We need to move from maintaining servers to helping education become efficient.

The onset of the power grid delivered us the modern world. This same change is happening in education. We need to move our delivered value to education into new areas. The output of our computing power is data. Data is the future of education.

Data is a scary part of education. The federal, state, and local governments give us more and more rules about what can be done with data. Fear of mistakes with this data keeps educators from adopting new ideas or technology. Data done right, however, allows us to gain insights into education, and how we can change educational outcomes. Every voyage to the new world lost a few people. The larger risk for education is missing our charge to improve the current generation.

When school technology professionals oppose Amazon Web Services, Clever software services, or other cloud options, I cringe. I know these people are holding onto the outdated server model, and have bought into the idea of physical custody.

Clever is a good example. A secure, standard connection to share school data with other cloud resources, Clever has teams of people who secure your school data, and a simple interface to understand what is shared. No in-house IT team could match Clever’s security, flexibility, convenience and cost savings. (Campus Suite uses Clever for its CMS.) In a previous article, I detailed why schools are choosing Clever to connect.

Similarly, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers resources that most schools could never afford. Why do we believe that we can do what we can't? Clever and AWS offer us the chance to focus on bigger educational challenges than servers.

Your school: smokestack or cloud?

It’s a paradigm shift that unfortunately is getting resistance from many school IT professionals. People who miss this chance are hurting children.

To the old-school, keep-it-in-house school IT manager opposed to trusting the cloud, I admit: the cloud can be dangerous. It's still early. But our mission is to verify vendors who handle our data are trustworthy. The cloud is our power outlet. Educators must stay open, and check these options as they appear.

A school datacenter moved to AWS can save enough to pay for other major programs. Clever can enable your school to deploy hundreds of educational apps that help students learn. What is the cost of not testing the cloud? Nicholas Carr's concept is correct. We need to stop generating our own power. Schools need to get it from the cloud.

Fact is, schools cannot afford to build and staff these types of systems, and, like the lunch lady who doesn’t need to grow her own potatoes, shouldn’t really need to do it.

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Posted by Eric Fulkert

Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.

Topics: School Districts Private schools Content management

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