The internet continues to change the way that schools operate and conduct business, with benefits ranging from reduced administrative overhead to improved communication tools.
However, this constant innovation does present schools with some challenges.
Sometimes it can be a balancing act between staying at the forefront of technological advancements, and having sufficient resources to manage and service the infrastructure required.
Traditionally, software applications would be fully contained either on a user’s computer or on-premises dedicated IT infrastructure, meaning the ability to access data and programs was heavily reliant on location.
Since the emergence of cloud computing, various stakeholders can access systems and information wherever there is an internet connection.
In this blog we’ll be comparing cloud based managed services vs. on-premises hosting of software applications.
What is the Cloud?
Cloud computing allows for the storage of data and applications outside of your school’s infrastructure. If we think about the implications for people in your school community, it offers several benefits:
- Teachers can access and manage assessments and marking remotely
- Parents can interact with the school in new, convenient ways
- Students have broader access to resources and tools.
In essence, cloud computing can be considered a ‘renting’ approach. Storage, processing and other computing tasks are provided by a 3rd party as a service. The alternative 'buying' approach is infrastructure to complete those same tasks being purchased and managed by your school.
Is Cloud Hosting the Future?
According to IDC, almost half of IT expenditure will be cloud-based in 2018, “reaching 60% of all IT infrastructure and 60-70% of all software, services and technology spending by 2020."
The statistics indicate that cloud computing is not just a trend or buzzword and has now grown from being a market disruptor, to an expected method of operation.
As businesses are increasingly active online, forecasting future demands can be difficult – the introduction of cloud computing solves this by enabling the scalability and agility needed in an ever-changing corporate and learning environment.
This migration away from on-premises hardware to cloud computing is further supported by the corporate adoption of this technology. Multinational companies are dedicating significant resources to building and improving their Cloud offerings, signifying a commitment to the technology.
How can the Cloud improve school operations?
Implementing a cloud hosting approach can be a cost cutting strategy. Managed cloud services do not require the significant initial investment that on-premises infrastructure does.
Because cloud hosting is a ‘rent’ as opposed to ‘buy’ approach, expenses shift from being classified as ‘capital’ to ‘operating’. This can have benefits in your school’s cash-flow, as there are smaller payments over time rather than a large initial payment.The great news is that these cost reductions could potentially be achieved with no reduction in system performance, or in many cases an improvement. Talk about a win-win!
Cloud services can also offer a cost-saving opportunity in terms of people power. With dedicated experts handling the back-end of your systems, valuable time is freed up for your IT staff to work on other tasks!
Flexibility & Scalability
On top of this, cloud hosting allows for a greater level of flexibility and scalability in an ever-changing business and learning environment. If your school grows and requires additional computing resources, there is no need for significant re-investment in infrastructure.
What this means for your school is you can base your IT infrastructure decisions more around immediate needs and scale as required, rather than basing purchase decisions on future requirements.
The Cloud allows you to pay for what you need now, not what you might need in the future.
If you asked a teacher if they’d prefer to be marking assignments on a Saturday on school grounds or at home, I think we’d know the answer.
A key benefit of web-based products and cloud hosted software is that they can be accessed from anywhere providing that an internet connection is available. It’s not just teachers that see these benefits though - for example if there’s something that requires IT staff investigation outside of school hours it can be addressed quickly via remote access.
This lack of restriction around physical location can potentially produce greater productivity and consistency in user experience.
Risk Mitigation & Expert Maintenance
School IT departments are usually a flurry of activity. From distributing and managing physical assets such as school laptop programs to maintaining and supporting digital systems, there’s no shortage of work to be done.
Implementing a cloud hosting solution means that dedicated experts are managing the back-end of your software applications around the clock, freeing up valuable time for your IT staff to complete other tasks or projects.
While there is no way to eliminate risk 100% of the time, cloud providers have staff who are solely dedicated to identifying risks and preventing breaches. All providers should have stringent disaster recovery management plans and policies in readiness for the unlikely event.
In addition, hosting your school's software applications in the cloud can potentially reduce the risk of physical breaches that occur on-premises. Tying it back to financial benefits, this also reduces the expenditure require for physical security measures around vital school IT infrastructure.
Sounds great. Anything I should be concerned about?
Although cloud hosting providers should implement stringent security standards, storing important data on external servers can have an element of risk associated with it. In this regard, it is important to ensure that your cloud hosting provider has attained the required industry certifications.
In saying this, when properly managed the added risk associated with hosting applications in the cloud is outweighed by the reduced risk of physical breaches associated with on-premises hosting.
One aspect to consider, particularly in remote areas with limited or inconsistent internet, is that cloud hosting is heavily reliant on the internet. If you are unable to obtain a solid connection, physical infrastructure may be the best option.
While cloud hosting allows for reduced overheads in many cases, it can also mean a reduction in control. Typically, your school could control and manage the applications, data and services that are held on the cloud server, however the management of the infrastructure that sits behind it is controlled by the hosting provider.
If this is a concern, it may be worth discussing exactly what each parties’ responsibilities are in terms of managing the cloud environment.
In the end, it’s all about what will work best for your school and it’s important to do your own research. Hopefully the areas listed in this blog will guide you in the type of questions you should be asking - both at a school and vendor level - to get the best results.