Dec 07 2021

Cloud Technology Continues to Trend in K–12

Set to expand in popularity in 2022, Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service deliver financial flexibility, ease IT management and extend students’ access to learning materials.

Editor’s note: To help IT leaders prepare for the year ahead, EdTech is pulling together the biggest tech trends for K–12 districts in 2022. You can find our overall top trends here, and be sure to check out our trends in artificial intelligence and asynchronous learning.

Software as a Service permeated classrooms before the pandemic, but the popularity of the technology exploded with the shift to remote learning. In the wake of SaaS solutions, K–12 districts are finding that Infrastructure as a Service can bring the same flexibility, ease of use and cost-effectiveness to data centers.

The ability to spread out costs over time — and to scale up and down as needed — makes it easier for districts to right-size both classroom and IT resources. These and other advantages make it likely that cloud adoption will continue to grow when it comes to software and infrastructure.

“With the pressure of budgets and the continued need to support a large volume of one-to-one devices, I anticipate that we will see steady adoption into the cloud, especially to make it easier and faster for people to access those resources,” says Amy McLaughlin, a networks and cybersecurity expert for the Consortium for School Networking.

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As more K–12 schools adopt IaaS and SaaS technologies, they’re quickly finding it’s a crucial technology for supporting the future of education.

Cloud-Based Data Centers Make It Easy to Access IT Resources

With IaaS, or cloud-based servers for compute and storage, the operating expenses model helps districts increase their agility and cost-effectiveness.

Traditional data centers require a sizable investment in hardware that depreciates over time and may not align with a district’s long-term needs. Cloud-based servers, on the other hand, make it possible to shift IT strategies as circumstances change.

EXPLORE: School districts can successfully shift to the cloud with these tips.

That was the case for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey, which moved to VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services for disaster recovery initially. When the pandemic hit, it became more than simply a failover solution.

VMC on AWS supported the district’s remote learning pivot, including a jump from 100 virtual desktops to 500. Expanding computing and storage resources in the cloud — and adding 400 VMware Horizon virtual desktop infrastructure instances on-premises — allowed the district’s IT team to deploy capacity where and when it needed.

“We already bought and paid for the cloud, so why not use it?” says IT Manager Harry Doctor Jr. “So, that’s what we decided to do, and it’s all worked out for the better.”

A hybrid data center can also boost performance, says McLaughlin.

“When you have a remote population going straight to the cloud without backhauling through your on-premises data center, that can reduce a lot of the latency,” she says.

Click the banner below to learn how CDW helped a school transition to the cloud.

SaaS Aids Performance and Support for One-to-One Device Programs

On the classroom side, cloud-delivered applications have become the norm for most districts, says Jake Miller, a science teacher with Ohio’s Orange City School District and host of the Educational Duct Tape podcast.

One of the biggest advantages of SaaS is that students can access their work on any device — flexibility that matters for remote learning.

“Students might say, ‘My Chromebook isn’t working, so I’m switching to my mom’s computer.’ If we weren’t cloud-based, they wouldn’t be able to do that,” Miller says.

Another trend on the rise, he notes, is differentiated learning programs that let teachers level instruction for each student. Such tools became more popular during the pandemic and have stayed in rotation.

“They have to be cloud-based for teachers to get the data they need,” Miller says.

Looking forward, Miller has an eye on the continued growth of cloud-based creative tools, such as those for video and audio editing. These tools will continue to trend through the next school year.

As popular as these tools may be for remote and in-person learning, SaaS highlights the importance of equity in internet access. It also requires districts to keep students’ data safe and private as they connect to more sites. IT administrators must be sure that they understand their cybersecurity responsibilities with cloud-based applications and that they have the right tools in place to protect student data.

READ MORE: What do IT leaders need to know about SaaS security posture management?

Managed Services Help Districts Leverage the Cloud Securely

For IT leaders concerned about cloud security, the first step is to be clear about the district’s contractual responsibilities, McLaughlin says. Which security duties fall to the district, and which will the cloud provider handle? A trusted partner can help districts assess their cloud security posture, so they aren’t guessing when it comes to vulnerable student data.

McLaughlin also recommends using preconfigured templates as a foundation for IaaS implementation, ensuring staff can configure servers correctly and taking advantage of managed services.

“We know statistically that most school districts have less than one full-time equivalent as a security person, so augmenting with Security as a Service in the cloud environment can be a real benefit,” she says.

UNLOCK THE WHITE PAPER: As cloud adoption accelerates, security must keep pace.

How is your district using cloud technology? Follow EdTech on Twitter at @EdTech_K12 using the hashtag #K12TechTrends22 to learn more about popular educational technology all year.

Illustration by MaruPazLineArt gradient by Pixelbuddha

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