In Conversation with Toowoomba Grammar School about their Journey to TASS Cloud.
Every now and then, you have a bad day. Just one of those days where everything that could go wrong does. Fortunately for most of us, we can go home and switch off, even if it is just for a few hours.
But for those in IT, this is not the case. There is the expectation that it is IT’s responsibility to “keep the lights on”, so when something goes wrong all eyes are on them and the pressure kicks in. This pressure is heightened when it is a core system.
In this month's blog, we talk to Jayson Mullins, Director of ICT at Toowoomba Grammar School (TWGS), about what he describes as 'the perfect storm' and the series of events that led him to move the school to the Cloud.
Let's take it back to the beginning.
Toowoomba Grammar School (TWGS) is a K-12 school and boarding facility with 1,200 students located in Toowoomba, Queensland. TWGS have been a TASS customer for 20 years, and for many of those years they managed their servers on-premises.
Jayson Mullins joined Toowoomba Grammar School as the ICT Director in 2019 - before then he was actively involved in the community as a father to two Grammar boys. Upon joining the school, Jayson was given the directive that the school needed to take a different direction in terms of strategy, technological governance and innovation.
In April 2019, shortly after Jayson started, the day of the perfect storm occurred.
"We had a core switch failure, which is probably the worst nightmare for any IT manager out there. What that meant is the entire school was down, from seven o'clock that morning," reflects Jayson.
"I say it's a perfect storm because not only did it go down just before school started, it also happened to be our Parent-Teacher Interview Day."
As an on-premises school with their core systems down, this downtime had schoolwide impacts: attendance could not be recorded; medical details and timetables were inaccessible; payroll could not be processed; and perhaps most notably, TWGS could not run their Parent-Teacher Interviews, nor could they communicate directly with parents to notify them.
"I vividly remember a PA announcement to the boys to tell the parents that we're cancelling Parent Teacher Interviews."
All Jayson could do was hope that the boys would pass on the message to their parents.
Prior to this, Jayson was in discussion with Sam Fisher, Chief Technology Officer at TASS, about TASS' Cloud Hosting Solution. He had already identified that the Cloud was the answer to IT governance and risk management that the board was looking for.
"It was about trying to remove all that risk that came crashing down around us in April 2019," said Jayson.
At the time Jayson was looking for a solution that would take care of disaster recovery, infrastructure and services and determined that moving their core systems to the Cloud could deliver that. As a comprehensive solution for both technology and risks – it was a no-brainer.
"TASS Cloud Hosting is managed by the experts in the product so if something goes wrong, we're there to fix it for you," Sam Fisher describes.
"You've got to consider that schools these days are 24/7 operations. Learning doesn't just happen between nine and three. You've got people working remotely, students submitting assignments at night, parents wanting to log into portals, process payments – some schools (like TWGS) also offer boarding facilities."
"Having a solution like TASS Cloud, where we're looking after your solution for you around the clock, means that you have the technology at your disposal whenever you need it."
But Cloud is about more than just keeping the 'lights on', it also plays an important role in protecting schools and businesses from malicious attacks, Sam explains.
"Something that comes up a lot is crypto-ransomware. And many schools around Australia and around the world have been severely impacted by this. So, something we've considered carefully when architecting the TASS Cloud solution is making sure it is as resilient as it can be to crypto-ransomware. We have extensive backup solutions that are untouchable by crypto-ransomware, but if something were to go wrong, we have industry-leading malware services with a team of global data security experts on standby, ready to assist."
TWGS' move to Cloud occurred during the June/July 2019 school holidays over a four-hour period. The seamless shift and lack of business downtime is what surprised Jayson the most.
"It was quite an amazing turnaround to do our lift and shift. It was four hours. Can you believe that?! It was amazing for any system let alone a system that has been at our school for 20 years."
"We have a lot of systems custom-built around our TASS instance and for us that wasn't a concern at all; in fact, one of the major selling points for us moving to Cloud was that we could actually just do a lift and shift, and everything operated the exact same as it was before we did the move."
There's often a concern that Cloud may be a threat to IT job security, as it removes the need for someone dedicated to server maintenance, so the thought of moving can be daunting.
When we asked Jayson about this, he quickly dismissed these fears and remarked about the newfound freedom his team has found; suddenly, they have more time to focus on staying ahead of the curve.
"It actually freed up a lot of our maintenance and administration side of things, which allowed us to focus on… more strategic focal points here at the school around security and infrastructure, uptime and business continuity."
The weight of the infrastructure has been lifted from Jayson's and his teams' shoulders – giving them confidence in their day-to-day operations and improving the morale.
"Since we've moved to TASS Cloud it has taken a lot of stress away from me. So selfishly I'm a much happier person than I was two years ago because we have reduced a lot of the risk."
When COVID struck and everyone went into crisis mode, it was business as usual for TWGS.
"TASS did not enter into the discussion… because we were a hundred percent confident that it was business as usual for us. We didn't have to focus on keeping the lights on or worrying about setting up VPNs – staff could operate immediately from home."
As for what is next for Jayson? He is continuing his ongoing technical governance journey to stay ahead of the landscape's changes in both technology and education.
"It has been a massive journey for us since I've started, we've clocked over 200 projects in my time which is huge - some of them are actually three or four months in size as well. So, we have certainly been on a journey of change."
The series of events that led TWGS to Cloud were not only unfortunate, they were every ICT Director’s worst nightmare. However, for TWGS, hindsight is a beautiful thing as the 'perfect storm' allowed the school to quickly evolve its technological landscape to take a leap into the future. As Jayson eloquently puts it:
"The shift to Cloud was more than a way out of trouble, it was a very strategic move."
Thanks to Toowoomba Grammar School, Jayson and Ariella for letting us come out and showcase this journey.