Education clouds: Three things you need to know

Cloud computing can solve many education technology challenges, but IT decision-makers must ask the right questions about cloud ROI, student data privacy, and disaster protection. Credit: iStock

Cloud computing offers enormous potential for addressing education technology challenges, which include frequently changing user populations, increasing demand for online learning and support services, and seasonal spikes in network traffic. Tapping into the cloud  whether public, private, or hybrid — can help IT teams serve their schools and organizations in an efficient, scalable, and cost-effective manner.

Be careful, though, not to treat cloud as an infallible magic wand rather than a practical tool, or you may find that it creates as many problems as it solves. Proper planning and awareness are key. Consider these three guidelines:

1. Don’t assume cloud ROI — prove it.

Cloud computing can produce real savings and other economic benefits. As seasoned IT professionals will tell you, though, don’t simply bank on return on investment (ROI), or you may set yourself up for cost overruns and other unpleasant surprises.

Do your homework on cloud ROI and tailor the calculations to your specific environment. Technology challenges vary in the vast, diverse education sector — public versus private, university versus K-12, large school versus small school, and so on. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all ROI formula.

When it comes to education technology, there are many important considerations in calculating potential cloud ROI. Among others: Don’t presume the future will mimic the past. If it did, you wouldn’t be looking at cloud infrastructure and applications in the first place.

2. You can’t punt responsibility for student privacy in the cloud.

A recent Education Week article notes that the rapid growth of cloud computing in K-12 school environments brings with it a corresponding rise in concerns around student privacy, especially storing sensitive data with third parties. While some schools and districts take a private-cloud approach in an effort to shore up privacy and security, a Fordham Law School study found significant issues in how third-party vendors manage the access and security of student data.

The study includes a host of recommendations for improving the protection of student information, including changes to how contracts between school districts and cloud service providers are written. Expect this to be a hot button issue for the foreseeable future as online security and privacy debates continue to rage. Be sure you have a thorough understanding of how your vendors manage and protect your data.

3. Cloud computing does not promise disaster protection.

Better availability and protection of data is a commonly touted benefit of cloud services. In the event of a local issue (such as hard drive failure, theft, or fire), users and IT teams can continue operating mostly as normal because everything is stored and available online. There’s plenty of truth in that thinking, but don’t hold to the false expectation that nothing can go wrong. Cloud does not guarantee the availability or redundancy of your applications and information, as university researchers found out the hard way earlier this year.

Cloud storage and other applications can fail. Know how your systems and vendors back up and protect your information, and never assume there’s a copy of everything tucked away somewhere. A strong data backup and recovery plan is a must whether your data is on premises, online, or both.

 

Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey writes about technology, marketing, small business, and other topics. His work appears regularly at InformationWeek.com and elsewhere. You can find him @kevinrcasey.
Kevin Casey
Tags: Cloud Computing,Education