For the School District of Janesville in Wisconsin, adopting hyperconverged infrastructure means fewer headaches and a renewed focus on the core mission of education, CIO Robert Smiley says. 

Oct 28 2019

How HCI Can Lighten the IT Workload for K–12 Schools

Adopting hyperconverged infrastructure can save school districts money while easing IT workloads.

It used to be a struggle for the 16-member IT team of the School District of Janesville in Wisconsin to keep existing systems up and running, let alone add new capabilities. 

But when the time came to refresh the district’s data center in fall 2017, an ideal solution presented itself: hyperconverged infrastructure.

The district replaced its aging fleet of servers and storage area network with four HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged nodes. Instead of maintaining separate banks of servers for storage, computing and networking, hyperconverged solutions combine all three elements in a single powerful machine

About a year later, Janesville created its first disaster recovery site using three more SimpliVity nodes.

As a result, the school district saw better performance, easier management, lower costs, more reliable data backup, and management options that previously were not possible, says Robert Smiley, CIO of the 10,000-student district. 

It once took hours to recover from system failure, he says. Now IT staffers can restore services in minutes.

“I used to sit with my technical staff and the conversation around the table would be ‘We need more space for this or that server,’” he says. “All the hullabaloo about not having enough storage space has gone away, and we no longer spend money on external backup systems. That has led to some pretty significant cost savings.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: See why K–12 schools should be considering transitioning to a hyperconverged infrastructure.

Consolidate K–12 IT Services with Hyperconvergence

Hyperconverged infrastructure is an attractive option for school districts because the systems are configured and integrated at the factory, making them easier to deploy with minimal IT staff and resources, says Charles King, president and principal analyst for Pund-IT.

“Most HCI solutions are also preconfigured for public cloud platforms, which many K–12 districts are adopting,” King adds. “And since HCI solutions are based on the latest servers, storage and network components, they tend to be more powerful and efficient than the hodgepodge of systems many districts use.”

By solving many problems at once, HCI tends to improve IT performance across the board

Gary Mattei
We wanted to build something that would last five to seven years, cost less and require fewer resources to manage."

Gary Mattei former Technology Director, Avon Grove School District

For example, it led to a significant drop in the number of help tickets Janesville’s IT department has to deal with and a corresponding boost in users’ ratings of the district’s service, Systems Administrator Cassandra Anderson says. 

These days, users routinely rate Janesville’s IT team 4.9 stars out of 5.

Freedom from day-to-day server management has also allowed Janesville’s IT staff to focus on more business-critical and creative projects — from deploying hundreds of new tablets and digital media players in classrooms to installing a new Cisco phone system and experimenting with virtual reality headsets to more directly engage students in learning.

For Smiley, adopting hyperconverged infrastructure has translated to fewer headaches and a renewed focus on the district’s educational mission.

“It has really allowed us to move the conversation forward about how to use technology to better educate our kids, because we no longer have to have these discussions about everything else,” he says.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how hyperconvergence has become a mainstream solution for K–12 schools.

Boost the Speed and Efficiency of Administrative and Academic Tasks

HCI has had a similar impact at Avon Grove School District, which enrolls more than 5,000 at four schools in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Like Janesville, Avon Grove’s 12-member IT staff juggle multiple responsibilities. Cost savings and ease of management were top priorities for upgrading the data center infrastructure, says Gary Mattei, who until this fall was Avon Grove’s technology director.

“At the time we were doing the deployment,” Mattei says. “I was focused on saving money and saving time, both of which are in short supply for most school districts.”

In March 2018, the district replaced its aging hardware and server management software with Nutanix Enterprise Cloud. But unlike Janesville, Avon Grove had its eye on hyperconverged technology from the start.

“It was always part of our plan to upgrade our network infrastructure,” Mattei says. “We wanted something that would last five to seven years, cost less and require fewer resources to manage.”

20 minutes

The minimum amount of time it took to reboot a print server in the School District of Janesville before the district adopted HCI in 2017

Source: School District of Janesville

With the previous software, he says, it took an hour or more to spin up a virtual machine. With Nutanix, though, “it takes about a minute,” Mattei says, “so it’s both very light on management and costs less money.”

Before adopting HCI, the district sought a service provider to host its student information systems because it lacked the resources to manage them. 

Today, Avon Grove runs six systems — including test, production and scheduling environments — on a single Nutanix platform

Besides being able to keep those systems in-house, the district was also able to free up the IT manager to fill other roles — an important perk for K–12 IT teams, which are often understaffed, Mattei says.

“She now manages other projects and systems, like our Google Console and all our apps,” Mattei says. “Nutanix has allowed her to manage other systems and applications much more efficiently.”

The district also gained a single automated process for both backup and disaster recovery, he adds. Managing backups with the old management software required a separate process and additional licensing fees.“There’s really no downside,” Mattei says.

Darren Hauck

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT