How Schools Can Avoid Making Data Center Mistakes

Common pitfalls include overlooking accessibility, cluttered setups, underestimating security needs and budget shortages.

Today’s classroom is a melding of traditional and digital tools to instruct today’s students. 

With every tap of a touchscreen or login onto a laptop, a school’s back-end infrastructure — the maze of servers, racks and cords — is crucial to keep students prepared for their digital education. But while so much rides on digital tools, not all school districts are taking care to ensure their data centers are capable.

“Schools should assess where the gaps in their infrastructure lie and research by consulting industry experts to find solutions, not try to come up with in-house ‘innovations’ that can be out of line with real industry trends,” advises Mehdi Paryavi, chairman of the International Data Center Authority (IDCA). “Schools should also take care to protect student information as they might healthcare information — student privacy is often an area people neglect.”

SIGN UP: Get more news from the EdTech newsletter in your inbox every two weeks!

Make Space for Data Centers, and Plan for the Unexpected

Taking control of the data center means relegating sufficient space as well as accessibility for schools in remote areas, such as in New Mexico, where school administrators have tackled accessibility from a district level. 

Technology is in constant flux and data centers must evolve at the same rate. Keeping data center spaces uncluttered is as important as a manageable student-to-teacher ratio.

A data center is not an afterthought, as was the case of Moreno Valley Unified School District in Southern California, which converted a decommissioned restroom to serve this purpose with unruly consequences.

Spaces storing hardware must be equipped to handle the powerful electronic equipment needed to maintain proper temperatures to remain functional — a storage closet will not do. In Indiana, Technology Director David Snyder realized an open door and floor fan were not sufficient to relieve the 95-degree Fahrenheit temperature in Goshen Community Schools’ data center room.

A contingency plan must be in place should the unexpected arise. A school district in Oregon made it a point to hire IT experts, but was blindsided due to insufficient planning.

Safe storage includes backing up data in the cloud, protecting student information, backing up your data center’s power source, as well as having hard copies of what to do should disaster strike. In Texas, Katy Independent School District experienced this firsthand after Hurricane Harvey flooded the district’s data center with 6 inches of water.

Invest in Training Now to Meet Future Needs

According to COSN’s 2018 K–12 IT Leadership Survey Report, the use of devices and digital material in the classroom will only continue to grow. 

In K–12, 69 percent of districts indicated they provide students with devices as opposed to 18 percent that require students to bring their own device to school. 

This growing exposure means that school districts will need to reexamine budgets to accommodate the increased demand for digital access.

Currently about 53 percent of COSN’s respondents reported that their budget does not “allocate enough financial resources to hire the personnel needed to support the tech assets that have already been purchased.” 

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they intend to fill that funding gap by filing for E-rate program funds, followed by delaying replacement of equipment, deferring purchases, using grants and reducing technology purchases, among other solutions.

The main takeaway, according to IDCA’s Paryavi is to “get educated.” He says, “Data center technicians and architects need to have proper training.” 

Schools need to recognize that their infrastructure is mission critical. It is necessary to allocate a budget to train and certify staff who can remain ahead of the technology curve, not behind it.

“And bring students into the conversation,” Paryavi adds. “We teach students math, physics, reading — why not introduce today’s students to an area where they could potentially find themselves making a career in the future?”

PeopleImages/Getty Images
Jul 17 2018