May 30 2024

What Is Cloud Bursting, and How Can Schools Take Advantage of It?

Hybrid cloud models may not be the solution for every K–12 district, but there are other ways to use cloud bursting technology in schools’ digital environments.

Cloud bursting isn’t just for meteorologists — it’s a term that’s entered the world of cloud computing as well.

The idea behind cloud bursting is simple: When users begin to overwhelm on-premises servers, applications can quickly scale up by adding cloud servers, bursting above performance limits.

It’s an attractive idea, a way to scale computing and deliver a good application experience using burst computing at both low load and high load moments. Cloud bursting leverages cloud resources when needed while maintaining and fully utilizing an existing investment in on-premises or private servers.

How Does Cloud Bursting Work?

Cloud bursting works by concentrating most of the application’s resources in an on-premises or private server environment, then scaling up cloud data center resources when needed. It can be done manually — something IT teams do when they see performance issues — or completely automatically, based on cloud provisioning and load management tools. 

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Cloud bursting assumes you have a hybrid on-premises and cloud computing environment, which means that your applications can run across multiple data centers seamlessly. IT managers use network load balancers (also called application delivery controllers) in front of their application to spread the load across multiple application servers.  

To make cloud bursting work properly, the application has to be hidden behind a load balancer and must be able to run correctly across different data centers simultaneously. 

What Are the Challenges with Cloud Bursting Technologies?

Applications designed to benefit from cloud bursting can be complicated to manage, especially when back-end resources such as databases are involved.

In the K–12 environment, tools such as load balancers are more commonly deployed to provide high reliability, spreading service across multiple servers in a single data center. Load balancers can deliver a higher level of uptime because they keep applications running, even if one of the application servers is unavailable due to hardware problems or general software maintenance. 

Spreading that kind of load balancing for an application portfolio across multiple data centers is an area where most K–12 IT teams have had little experience. 

As K–12 IT managers move more and more applications to the cloud, mostly via Software as a Service environments such as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace, the requirement for performance management has largely disappeared. It’s not your problem to solve if Microsoft or Google are seeing a momentary slowdown. 

KEEP READING: Widen student access to learning with cloud software.

The few applications that K–12 IT teams still run on-premises are generally small and specialized — not the kind of apps that can easily be spread across multiple data centers or that need to scale up for increased load. This means K–12 IT managers might look at cloud bursting and think that this isn’t something they need to know about. 

However, there are parts of cloud bursting that might be interesting to school IT teams. 

How Can K–12 Schools Use Cloud Bursting for Applications?

One way schools can use cloud bursting is not for sharing application performance between on-premises and cloud data centers but as a tool to move applications entirely to cloud data centers — and back. In other words, when the load on an application starts to peak, IT teams can use cloud bursting technology to move the entire application from on-premises to a cloud data center.  Rather than run a hybrid environment, run the application in one place or the other and use cloud bursting technology to quickly shift the application when needed. 

A good example of this might be an application that sees heavy use at the beginning of each semester, such as scheduling or class registration software. When everyone wants to use it, cloud bursting can move the entire application to a cloud data center. For the other 48 weeks of the year, the application can continue to run in on-premises servers, saving money and making use of existing hardware resources.

RELATED: Schools modernize their on-premises data centers with hyperconverged infrastructure.

This kind of cloud bursting usually requires some application downtime. The key here is to make use of cloud bursting technology, such as dynamic scaling and load balancers, to shift the application even if it isn’t ready to operate in a hybrid model.

Another option for cloud bursting in K–12 environments is to use the technology to help IT teams make the shift from on-premises to cloud-based data centers. Most IT managers who have been through cloud migrations know that the marketing-friendly “lift and shift” isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. Having the option to migrate an application slowly from on-premises to cloud-based services, using cloud bursting technology, can give IT teams confidence that they’ll be able to migrate applications smoothly, rather than exposing the user community to road bumps along the way.

Cloud bursting brings cloud resource scalability to on-premises applications. K–12 IT managers shifting their own applications to the cloud can use burst computing technology to ease their move and maintain high levels of service.

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