Can schools migrate to the cloud in time for next year?

Depends. FETC speakers provide insights on what district leaders need to accomplish to start—and possibly complete—the cloud migration process in time for the new school year
By: | May 7, 2020
Adopting a cloud migration strategy that can be completed before the start of the next school system would be difficult, since going to the cloud involves creating an internet content filter and sometimes working in multiple cloud D3Damon

Many district leaders want to adopt a cloud migration strategy that can be completed in time for the fall, as entire school systems could continue working remotely in some capacity as a result of the coronavirus into the next school year.

“Now is the perfect time for CIOs to report the pains they have experienced while working remotely to show how their district would benefit from migrating certain systems to the cloud,” says Chief Information Technology Officer Kenneth J Thompson who spoke on the topic of deciding between working in the cloud and on-premises, at FETC 2020.

For example, CIOs can identify if employees had difficulty using remote authentication or if the district would benefit from building redundancies of certain systems in cloud-based environments. “That way, if the system failed on-premises, you would have that redundancy in the cloud to continue business processes,” adds Thompson of San Antonio ISD.

Going to the cloud can improve security and operational efficiencies, but the process, which involves creating an internet content filter and sometimes working in multiple cloud environments, is complicated and might take longer than expected. Here are some cloud education strategies.

Planning cloud migration

To migrate to the cloud by the fall, school leaders who still have all their systems completely on premises need to quickly figure out where to start building the cloud-based infrastructure now. Depending on certain circumstances, schools can even begin migrating remotely, but IT officials should complete the process on premises, especially if the plan involves moving entire ERPs, which have multiple configurations on site, says Executive Director of Information Technology Thomas Nawrocki of Charleston County School District in South Carolina who spoke on the topic of cloud security earlier this year at FETC.

First, leaders need to articulate what going to the cloud means and what business processes will be migrated. “I would never suggest taking all that you’ve got and put it in the cloud somewhere because you do not have to give up on your on-premises environment completely,” says Director Of IT Network Operations Shawn McDowell who also serves in Charleston County, which moved its servers to the cloud in case on-premises data was lost during weather crises. “You are basically extending your security outward and deciding what you would like to move into that extended area,” he says.

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Depending on their budget, schools can either create a cloud presence internally or hire a company to build, monitor and manage a hosted environment. For accessing the cloud, IT officials should leverage the current devices that faculty, staff and students will use as a starting point. “Depending on whether you are a Google or Microsoft school, use what you have as a foundation that will extend beyond your network’s border,” says McDowell. “This will require going through a firewall, but you don’t want to punch a big hole into the firewall since that will compromise cybersecurity.”

Creating an internet content filter

A large part of going to the cloud involves setting up internet content filtering. “For example, students who want to access your internet on a device first go to the cloud, hit your filter and then enter the secured internet based on what your filter allows,” says Nawrocki. “You can set up filters remotely by pushing updates to students and faculty but users can choose to ignore them, so it’s recommended to prepare devices on premises.”

However, everything in the cloud does not have a web presence. In these cases, schools will need to map an environment that will send traffic back from the filter to the data center rather than into the filtered internet area.

Pursuing a multiple cloud environment

Larger districts that have yet to adopt a cloud migration strategy should consider multi-cloud environments to help expedite the process but leaders need to be extra wary of providing data access to multiple third-parties. “There has to be a solid data sharing agreement in place that protects student data,” says Technology Officer for Learning and Systems Kevin Schwartz of Austin ISD.

Schools also need to ensure data interoperability is consistent across these environments. “Everybody wants to create their own method of how data flows back and forth between multiple parties,” says Schwartz. “This can be a nightmare when data is lost from an accident or acquisition.”

Additionally, vendors that require school systems to provide social security numbers or all of their existing data should be avoided. “All solution providers need is a small slice of data, so limiting the amount of data that you expose is very important,” says Schwartz. “Overall, this is not the time to make a hasty decision that you will regret. Yes, there is a need to do something now, but it’s crucial to weigh your options when going to the cloud.”

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