Voices in Tech: How to lead teams through the K-12 storage wars

San Antonio ISD Chief Information Technology Officer and FETC featured presenter Kenneth J. Thompson is shoring up infrastructure and utilizing cloud storage, but shifting culture is job No. 1

Determining whether to store data in the cloud or on-premise can sometimes feel like choosing between two rival teams with diehard fans on both sides.

Although Kenneth J. Thompson, chief information technology officer for San Antonio ISD, expects that the days of 100-by-100-square-foot district data centers are nearing the end, he believes in a hybrid approach of both cloud and on-premise storage.  

Thompson has led a five-year strategic plan that includes relocating the district’s data center, redesigning local and wide area networks, and launching a new cloud-based student information and enterprise resource planning system.

The biggest shifts, however, haven’t been with technology.“Changing culture has been 50% of my work,” says Thompson.

Thompson was a featured presenter for DA’s FETC® 2020 in Miami.

How do you shift the mentality that data needs to be “touchable” or stored on-premise? 

A lot of districts still operate under the impression of “I have to be able to touch it; it has to be in my environment.” When we started our shift to the cloud, there was some nervousness and concern about changing or eliminating jobs. You have to show staff the value, the return on investment and the efficiency for the organization and for them. If that’s not done, you’re rowing the boat by yourself. Cloud computing can put us on a playing field where we have the same efficiencies as any corporation in the world. With vendors responsible for maintenance and upgrades, you can reskill your staff to use them in other ways.

Read: Voices in Tech: What comes after access?

What lessons are you learning as you move through your five-year strategic plan?

We have a saying among our CIOs: Friends don’t let friends build data centers. I’ve learned that all things have to run parallel. Our data center is critical, infrastructure is critical, WAN is critical, the devices our users use are critical. Prioritizing the cloud has worked out well. We have about 30 of our applications in the cloud. But even if I had the applications up, if I didn’t ramp up or true up those other environments, then it would be the same environment. It’s like having a car with no gas in it. We had to do the rest to put us in a position of success.

How do you budget for the different pricing models of cloud services compared with on-premise costs?

You have to find partners. Some cloud service providers charge based on usage. One month it could be one price, and the next, it could jump to a much higher price. You need to find a partner that you can budget for and sustain. Ask about their pricing model and if they have a model that allows for predictable prices. A server might cost $5,000 to $7,000 and an average server might need to be replaced every three years, so it’s important to figure out your budget and determine your cost savings for your district.

Jennifer Herseim was a former editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.

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