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Making the Leap to a Cloud-Based Operating System

Michael Nutter

April 26, 2017

By switching to the cloud, private and parochial schools can take the future into their own hands.

Schools struggling with the hassle of maintaining their own IT network have an answer at last. Cost-effective, versatile, and headache-free, there are clear reasons why more and more institutions are converting their IT systems — including infrastructure, end-user devices, applications, troubleshooting, and support — to be 100% cloud-based.

By partnering with a CIO, schools see positive change on three fronts. For one, the cloud eliminates the hassle of storing, maintaining, and upgrading IT infrastructure like routers and servers. The cost of maintenance and storage is incorporated in the rental rate; storage space can be adjusted to meet needs quickly; backups are more secure; and updates will always be current. Along the same lines, cloud-based applications often come free with devices, and upgrades are completed automatically. Finally, schools no longer have to maintain an entire IT network on their own. The task can be handed off to a K-12 CIO or other remote support provider, who can offer assistance and troubleshooting 24/7.

Think of the cloud like a mobile phone plan: instead of constructing your own cell phone tower in your backyard, you pay a service provider a monthly fee and upgrade your device every year or so. It’s far easier to leave the management of your IT service to another party than it is to spend thousands of dollars and man-hours making sure that your entire infrastructure is working properly, especially if your school doesn’t have a robust IT department in place already.

But while it’s clearly the most efficient option, actually switching over to a cloud operating system can seem daunting. And yet, as much of the federal funding schools have relied on to support IT projects is redirected away from physical infrastructure initiatives, the switch may be a necessary one.

A Timely Switch

It’s understandable why schools have been hesitant to take the leap over to an entirely new operating system. Educational technology is notoriously complicated. Beyond just maintaining infrastructure, laptops and software must be updated and replaced regularly, and schools must be wary of updates or additions that could disrupt the entire system’s interoperability. Without strong IT support programs, schools struggle through each update — and this struggle discourages them, consequently, from making the leap over to the cloud. Unbeknownst to them, cloud-based devices and apps actually remove the difficulty of upgrades.

But switching to the cloud isn’t just a tech-savvy maneuver — it could also be a financial imperative. Many private and parochial schools rely on federal funding programs like E-Rate to fund their technology initiatives. However, as the government begins to encourage 100% wireless computing, the E-Rate program can no longer be used to support upgrades or new purchases of physical infrastructure like servers and routers. These schools must now find a way to support their operations while keeping up with the pace of digital innovation.

Planning Your Leap

Many schools already incorporate some cloud-based tools into their curricula, like Gmail or Google Docs. But it’s one thing to feature singular tools, and another to undertake the switch to an entirely cloud-based operating system. After considering their internal strengths and weaknesses, in addition to any outside forces like budgetary concerns or changes in demographics, schools must devise a custom, realistic goal — and a strategy for achieving it.

Working through the complexities of cloud implementation will require a 3-5 year plan defined by high-level goals and mapped out through short-term benchmarks. The goals should be in the realm of instructional strategy, end-user computing, IT infrastructure, and professional development, and should be defined by metrics that quantify progress towards achieving them. Benchmarks will break the high-level objectives down into a series of achievable tasks that account for budget constraints and expected changes to school policy and governance.

By the end of the process, infrastructure, end-user devices, and applications must be moved to the cloud, and comprehensive IT support must be secured. Your plan should reflect the order in which these goals are to be achieved according to their respective relevance to your overall objectives. In addition, your plan should take into account the variety of different cloud-based services that are available, decide which is the most important, and the chronology in which they’ll be implemented.

While moving your school’s operating system to the cloud is a serious undertaking, it’s also completely feasible. Your journey towards the cloud already began with the advent of cloud-based email, productivity, and communication apps that have made education more seamless. With planning and some assistance from IT professionals, your school can take those final steps towards full implementation.

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