Convenience and cost often dictate what IT leaders manage in-house and what they keep in the cloud.

Jul 09 2014
Data Center

How Districts Divvy Up Cloud Services

Convenience and cost often dictate what IT leaders manage in-house and what they keep in the cloud.

Some school leaders put everything in the cloud, while others eschew the technology altogether.

"I probably fall in between the two extremes, because I certainly understand the benefits and the concerns," says Dr. Ramiro Zuniga, chief of technology for the Port Arthur Independent School District in Texas.

Port Arthur ISD's cloud-based parent notification system, for example, lets him contact parents within seconds in case of emergency.

"There's a tremendous benefit for something like that," he says.

Likewise, many teachers have found that online collaboration and file-sharing tools have transformed the classroom experience.

If the data being shared is too sensitive for Zuniga to trust in the public cloud, he uses a private cloud, which his staff manages.

"Obviously, there's some overhead — you've got the cost of maintaining the equipment — but we feel like we're in a good position if we know where our critical data is and who's accessing it," he explains.

Privacy isn't all that concerns Zuniga.

"Let's say you're using a public service, and its data center goes down. You have no control. You're sitting there idle until they resolve the issue," he says. "If something goes down here in my private cloud, I know what to do, I can address it immediately and it's in our control."

Plus, he adds, "If I contract with a cloud services vendor for whatever purpose, and something goes awry, the school board is going to hold me accountable, not the vendor."

Dollars and Sense

Of course, if districts already have the infrastructure to support those services in-house, their private cloud costs can be substantially lower.

Boston Public Schools runs its own student information system and data warehouse. One advantage of this approach is that it's less expensive than moving those resources to the cloud, explains CIO Mark Racine.

That's not the case for all systems, though. The district is upgrading its phone system this year and is looking into whether a cloud-based solution, which would offer several benefits, would be more cost-effective, he says.

Moving Boston's 76,000 email accounts to Google Apps this winter made a lot of sense, Racine continues. Agencies throughout the city had been using various systems, many of which needed to be upgraded. City officials estimate that the move to a unified, cloud-based system will reduce costs by about 30 percent.

Plus, users were excited about the system because of their familiarity with Google and the added functionality. "There was no shortage of people jumping to say, 'I will be the first to pilot and test it out,'" he says.

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