Sep 05 2023

Embark on a Journey to the Cloud

Experts share how K–12 IT administrators can get started with data center modernization for their schools.

K–12 schools are collecting and storing more data than ever, thanks in large part to an increase in educational technology. However, because of budget and expertise limitations in their IT departments, most schools are still storing data in on-premises data centers in some capacity, if not exclusively.

There are many considerations when transitioning to a modern data storage solution like the cloud. Here’s what IT leaders need to think about when looking to upgrade their data centers.

Why Should Schools Transition to the Cloud Now?

Switching to cloud storage is increasingly becoming a matter of maintaining robust data safety and security. Ransomware and other cyberattacks against schools are on the rise, and data storage systems that are more than a few years old are not prepared for this quickly evolving scenario.

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Curtis Preston, a technology expert, says the No. 1 reason many schools need updated data storage is for improved security.

“While schools tend not to have very stringent performance requirements, they may also be suffering performance issues as well. Secondly, many schools have computing and storage infrastructure that is likely much older,” he says.

Like any technology, data storage systems become outdated over time. Greg Schulz, founder and senior adviser at StorageIO, points out that aging tech results in more support costs and improvements, “while usage demand surpasses their cost-effective capabilities.”

“This reality of aging data storage solutions and other data infrastructure technologies applies equally for on-premises, cloud, hybrid and edge use for schools,” Schulz says.

DISCOVER: Sustain data security on-premises and in the cloud.

Understand the Best Cloud Storage Options for Your K–12 School

Getting started with the cloud means deciding which type of cloud storage solution is most suitable to the school’s needs. The four main cloud categories are:

  • Public cloud: A popular and low-cost solution that’s easy to access and use
  • Private cloud: A more tailored solution with increased security that’s more expensive
  • Hybrid cloud: A combination of public and private cloud solutions
  • Community cloud: A solution that shares access to private clouds among member institutions, commonly used in the healthcare and education sectors

It’s also important to know how the school’s data will need to be organized and accessed. Specific access options for data storage include:

  • Object storage: Best for massive sets of unstructured data (billions of files) and popular for its easy backup and recovery abilities, as well as its unlimited scalability
  • File storage: Used for hierarchical organization of smaller sets of data (millions of files) and known for a high level of security, plus ease of use in collaborative environments; this storage type uses on-premises network-attached storage (NAS) servers
  • Block storage: Allows data to be easily and quickly manipulated, uses solid-state drives and hard disk drives, and can be pricier

Modern data storage systems are usually hybrid systems that offer block, file and object storage options and also include robust data protection, automatically replicating data into the cloud for backup and disaster recovery purposes.

TAKE ANOTHER PATH: Should K–12 schools consider Backup as a Service?

Which Modern Data Storage Solutions Should Schools Consider?

Randy Kerns, a senior strategist and analyst at The Futurum Group, suggests that schools look into an NAS system, a low-cost solution that is simpler to install and administer than other systems.

“Larger schools can have centralized external storage, usually an NAS system that provides shared storage and centralizes data protection and technology investment for storing data,” Kerns says. “Some may want to put all of their data in a public cloud, which may be necessary if their applications execute there, but the cost accumulates quickly and can be significant over time.”

These costs can become exacerbated if the data is not managed well, he adds, “so this really depends on where the applications run.”

Similar to traditional on-premises storage, choosing a type of cloud storage depends on the school’s requirements. Schulz says it’s about “knowing your apps, workloads and their performance, availability, capacity and economic attributes, then aligning the type of cloud storage to your needs. In other words, watch out for simply selecting the lowest cost per capacity.”

Greg Schulz
Leverage the hybrid cloud with hybrid storage. The best data storage solution is the one that works for your school.”

Greg Schulz Founder and Senior Adviser, StorageIO

For example, depending on the size of the school district, a modern storage solution might involve a one-type-for-all applications and use case scenario — all block, all file, and a mix of SSD and HDD — if this is how it worked with the school’s traditional onsite storage.

Schulz notes that schools could also use different types of storage with various access (block, file, object, table) for various app usage, as well as online tiers based on frequency of access; for example, hot for the most regularly accessed data, and warm, cool and cold for archived data.

“Decisions on what is best vary with environment and applications. Today, it is a combination of running applications with data on-premises along with software and some data in a public cloud. This all starts with the application and then an investigation into cost. There are no easy answers, but the homework needs to be done to make good decisions,” Kerns says.

What Are the Benefits of Modern Data Storage Tech?

While the costs of cloud storage solutions can be higher than older storage systems, the ROI is high. A modern data storage system can help a school become more productive, Schulz says. It can also enable new, effective educational opportunities by helping to support multimedia applications and learning with large files and data sets, as well as virtual reality and other immersive, data-intensive applications.

Additionally, a modern data storage system can support a school’s ever-growing data storage needs: more data, larger data, data created and accessed faster, as well as dependencies on available data.

journey to the cloud

 

Another advantage of modern data storage systems: easy and fast access to vast amounts of data, but only for those who are given access.

“These systems will control access for valid users to share and collaborate off a common set of data. This provides greater utilization of resources and greater security with controlled access,” Kerns says.

How Modern Cloud Solutions Can Keep School Data Protected

Of course, with this increasing dependence on modern data storage solutions, there’s also a rising need for more resiliency. IT admins are seeking solutions with robust data protection, including backup and recovery and ransomware prevention capabilities.

How does this work? Modern data storage systems protect data by providing support for modern authentication systems: multifactor authentication, integration with modern security information and event management and extended detection and response tools to look for anomalies, automated storage management, and automated data protection. Data can also be automatically backed up and secured in the cloud to keep it safe from disasters and cyberattacks.

However, Kerns emphasizes that these data storage solutions should be used in conjunction with data protection software to make protected copies of data, in accordance with the 3-2-1 rule.

Ultimately, the most suitable data storage solution will depend on a school’s size and available funding, but Schulz advises having a robust data protection strategy “that helps get your school out of trouble faster than it got into it.”

“Leverage the hybrid cloud with hybrid storage,” he says. “The best data storage solution is the one that works for your school and its apps versus the one your school and students end up having to work for to fit into its abilities.”

EXPLORE MORE: How does the modern data platform fuel success?

Illustration by Sey Yassine
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