Mar 04 2020

Finding the Right Cloud Solution for Your District’s Storage Needs

Moving to the cloud benefits K–12 schools, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

With its massive flexibility and pay-as-you-go pricing, cloud computing is a potential boon to K–12 schools. Schools can rapidly introduce new applications and scale up as use cases expand and shed the cost burden associated with data centers.

But not all cloud solutions are the same, nor do all school districts have the same IT needs. How best to migrate off of legacy systems and on-premises solutions? Here are K–12 considerations for a successful move to the cloud:

  1. Connectivity: “The K–12 organization needs to make sure they have the network capacity and internet bandwidth to utilize that cloud solution,” says Amy McLaughlin, a network consultant and project lead for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “If I am a rural school district and I don’t have good internet connectivity, a cloud-hosted Voice over IP system might not work. My system does not have the capacity to support that kind of service.”
  2. SLAs: K–12 schools need service-level agreements that respond to the nuances of school operations. “For schools and districts, they want to be able to leverage the service during the critical portions of the day,” McLaughlin says. “They may not need 24/7 support, but they have to have it from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The SLA has to meet the specific needs of the school district.”
  3. Software licensing: School districts may license dozens of software products, not all of which are suitable for the cloud. “I need to think about which ones are best kept on-premises, which can convert to Software as a Service. There has to be research into each of these contracts, as well as into the capabilities of that software and whether it even makes sense from a technology standpoint to move it to the cloud,” says Carmen Fontana, an IEEE Impact Creator and Member, and cloud practice lead at Centric Consulting.
  4. IaaS vs. SaaS: It’s important to decide whether to acquire Infrastructure as a Service or only license out specific applications in the Software as a Service model. “With SaaS, you just pay for a software license and the cloud provider handles the back end,” Fontana says. “With IaaS you get the most flexibility, but you also get complexity. You can pay for someone to manage your virtual machines — that’s simple, but more expensive — or you can do it yourself. That will give you more flexibility in terms of accessing needed infrastructure, but there is also a greater management burden.”
  5. Privacy: Commercial cloud solutions all offer assurances of privacy, but given the sensitivity about student data, it’s important to read the fine print. “It’s typically a shared-responsibility model: They secure part of the system, making sure people don’t have access to the data centers,” Fontana says. “But determining who has access to the applications themselves and encrypting data being moved to the cloud are the school district’s responsibilities.”
  6. Pricing models: Schools should consider which pricing model makes sense, as they operate only part of the year. “Does the model account for heavy utilization during the school year and much lighter use during summer and breaks? Are you going to pay the same price every month? You shouldn’t, because your utilization is going to vary. Pricing and the ability to scale the services should take into account what a school district actually needs,” McLaughlin says.

MORE ON EDTECH: Read about five best practices for ensuring data security in the cloud.

Beyond these diverse considerations, it’s also important to take a hard look at the cloud vendor’s bona fides.

“A vendor who has worked extensively with school districts will understand the obligations around student data privacy, financial constraints, the need for scalable solutions based on the school-year model,” McLaughlin says. “You want a partner who understands the need for a collaborative environment.”

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