The cloud as ‘a key enabler’ in education

Commentary: Updating a district's computing infrastructure can make room for other technology priorities in the classroom.

Today’s school districts have only just begun to understand how the cloud can be used to support their data center strategies, but one thing already is abundantly clear: Making use of this technology can help K-12 IT staff address many of the problems they face.

In a recent webinar , Simone Welter, a senior product manager for cloud solutions at the Education Networks of America, and Alan Greenberg, a senior analyst and partner for Wainhouse Research, described how technology administrators can leverage the cloud to solve the problems they regularly face.

A lot has changed for district IT providers in recent years, and IT staff are feeling the pressure. Just a few of the tasks they are overwhelmed with include providing a safe internet experience for students; keeping data secure, available and recoverable; being constantly on defense against malicious cyber threats; addressing skills gaps; facing resource constraints; and staying on top of compliance obligations. According to one technology coordinator, IT staff need to be in a “constant state of alert” in order to stay on top of new technology and learn how to support it.

A recent IT leadership survey from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) lists the top three IT priorities in K-12 education as cybersecurity and broadband/network capacity, data security and budgets.


“Schools are having to align themselves with the rapid consumerization of technologies,” Greenberg said. “We’ve got an amazing pace of change where we’ve opened up classroom walls, and all kinds of new products and services that forward-thinking educators and learners increasingly are asking for, and demanding, in fact.”

So what, exactly, is the cloud? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) lists five characteristics that constitute the cloud: on-demand provisioning, broad network access, resource pooling, elasticity and measured service. While the cloud isn’t the solution to every IT director’s problems, Welter said, it’s a powerful tool to have and has the potential to solve quite a few.

When considering a move to the cloud, districts should first determine what’s right for them by evaluating objectives and goals, costs and benefits, existing technology and all vendor offerings.

As many districts have learned first-hand already, the cloud can best be used to improve IT through data center replacement.

A district may be up against aging infrastructure and grappling with the cost of replacing hardware, or may want to reduce the burden of data center maintenance. Rather than replacing that old infrastructure, some districts may opt for a hybrid model and use the cloud as additional capacity for workload or use the cloud for internet-facing workloads allowing the public broad access without inviting them onto a secured network.


The cloud is commonly used for offsite backup as well, which provides easy access to backup data wherever needed. Also, education providers are increasingly expected to make services and systems available 24/7, so they’re starting to lean on cloud technology to add resilience and redundancy to ensure high availability of certain features.

Most important to many districts, the cloud can save money because it doesn’t require big capital outlays or upfront investment, there are no depreciating assets to dispose of and there is little to no data center maintenance.

With this technology, school IT staff can focus more on the technology that is closer to the classroom and spend time on other initiatives that fit long-term visions and goals.

“IT is no longer considered a byproduct of the classroom mission, but rather a key enabler of the mission itself,” Welter said.

The cloud may not be a cure-all for every problem, Welter said, but without a doubt, it can help lift certain burdens off ­IT staff and simplify district data center strategies for the better.


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This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by Education Networks of America (ENA) .

The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here .

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