educationtechnologyinsights

Cloud Technologies as Game-changers for School Districts

By Don Ringelestein, Director of Technology, West Aurora School District

Don Ringelestein, Director of Technology, West Aurora School District

Cloud computing has been revolutionizing the K-12 education industry; this is beyond doubt. Services like Google’s GSuite, more commonly “Google Docs,” and Microsoft’s Office 365 have become nearly ubiquitous in K-12 school districts. Using services like these allow districts, and technology leaders in those districts, to simplify their IT environments. Opportunities for reduction in storage costs alone are significant as terabytes of data are moved into the cloud, and VPN connections to reach that data are no longer necessary, further reducing maintenance and TCO of storage and network systems.But beyond the narrow concerns of technology infrastructure, cloud resources also to provide teachers and students access to their documents from anywhere in the world, at any time that they desire. Narrowly speaking of IT infrastructure again, cloud resources can provide.

"Ensuring data security and availability are of primary concerns to districts, especially as they weather the onslaught of cybercrime and attempts to steal data on a daily basis"

But an unseen advantage to cloud resources is that it reduces district’s vulnerability to malware. Now, it is true that if a user has their data locked in a Google or One Drive, that data is effectively lost unless the district is also backing up those environments. However, mission-critical data, stored in the cloud and managed as a service by vendors, becomes far less vulnerable to malware that often finds its way onto user devices through phishing emails. By the way, as an IT leader in education, if you aren’t training and testing your staff’s ability to detect phishing emails, you should start today. But critical data, stored in the cloud and managed as a service by vendors, safeguards student and employee information from being lost to ransomware, or other cyber threats that K-12 districts aren’t as well equipped to handle. A recent survey by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) found that an overwhelming majority of public and private schools don’t have dedicated resources tasked with maintaining cybersecurity. While the staffs in these schools do an admirable job given the plethora of tasks facing them on a daily basis (most schools have less than one technical support staff member per 750 end users, some have more than a 1,000 end-users per tech staff member), public school districts simply don’t have the resources to properly monitor their environments on a continual basis to ensure that they are completely secure, or that they are highly available.

Enter cloud data centers. Residing in highly available environments, with data located in more than one location to ensure that it will be available even if its primary data center isn’t available, cloud data is more available than the district’s local data centers. Moreover, emergency situations can render the district’s networks or data centers unavailable. Using public cellular networks, staff can access critical cloud-based systems via mobile devices and ensure that all of their student data is accessible in crisis situations. This can mean the difference between life or death for students with medical conditions or special needs that require attention. Even staff members who don’t normally work with these students can have the tools they need to attend to student’s needs, available on their mobile devices.

In short, utilizing cloud computing is a game-changer for school districts. Sharing and collaboration using Google Docs or Office 365 are really just the beginning. Ensuring data security and availability are of primary concern to districts, especially as they weather the onslaught of cybercrime and attempts to steal data on a daily basis. Cloud computing can become a key part of school district’s cybersecurity platforms as well.

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