The cloud – what does it mean in education?

Published by Matt Setchell on

Following on from my recent post around a brief history of Management Information Systems, I wanted to write a similar blog about how we ended up in a cloud-focused world, and the benefits of adopting it in education

There are three options for schools these days, on-premise, hybrid, or cloud. However, almost every school runs a hybrid system, and not by choice.

To understand why, you have to understand what the traditional network in a school looks like. If you are a primary – it looks like a single server on the floor (or if posh, a table) in a store cupboard. At secondary, you will be lucky enough to have a server room, where multiple servers and hopefully, air-conditioning will be.

However, these come in many shapes, sizes, and definitions of a room. I’ve seen them in old toilets, in spaces under stairs, underground, or in the highest room in the school.

These servers in schools control everything from door access, dinner orders, coursework, safeguarding, security, documents, plans, and many more systems. 

And it is these legacy servers, and a reluctance to remove the status quo and take the leap to the cloud that sees many schools in a hybrid situation.

Blame for this (if blame is the right term) can be partially down to costs (although long term, the cloud can offer savings against some hybrid setups where you end up paying twice) but also can be down to a reluctance from some in the edtech industry not wanting to move their schools to the cloud, for fear of losing control of their networks, and perhaps a wider fear of lack of job security if systems are no longer in their server room. And for some schools, lack of movement by their MSPs to drive change can also be to blame.

The On-Premise Generation

Over the last 10-15 years or so, the number of physical servers has reduced, as we have seen the use of virtual servers. Essentially, a higher-powered physical server, which hosts multiple virtual servers. Meaning, to the naked eye, you may see one server, but to a technician usually one physical holds 3-4 virtual in a primary, and secondary, storage of the servers will be controlled by multiple physical servers and dedicated storage devices, costing £30-40k and powering 10-20 virtual servers.

In the last 5-10 years, we have seen a further shift – which is where the now commonplace hybrid setup sits. This is when some services (usually starting with email which was the first to move to be cloud-based) have been moved into systems like Gmail or Exchange Online, reducing the need for complex and costly on-premise email servers, and providing greater access and storage space then schools could provide themselves – and importantly, greater security.

The Hybrid Generation

Building on these email services hosted elsewhere, we now see the email platforms expand into service platforms, offering access to office-based platforms and offering a range of benefits – and when you are now creating in the cloud, you will need to store your files in the cloud. Cloud storage is much cheaper than on-premise, originally giving terabytes to users (although this is now being changed)

Core systems, such as HR, Finance, and MIS have also seen the benefit of the cloud. One system to manage and develop, centrally, for the software provider, with none of the costs, management, or security concerns of on-premise solutions.

The Cloud Generation

Whilst a few schools have fully adopted the cloud, with none of their data or systems on-site anymore, many schools live in a world where they have both, and there are real opportunities to simplify and save on costs, whilst also ensuring higher levels of security and availability by more fully adopting cloud systems.

When systems, users, and devices are no longer tied to their servers in schools – users find they can access everything they need, wherever they are, and on a wider range of devices.

However, this is not an easy route, and takes time, investment in skills development, and a willingness to change. Whilst you can move devices, data, and users to the cloud and adopt technology like Intune for device management – that just gets you into the cloud, it’s not the same as taking advantage of the cloud. To do that, you need to look at a wider range of transformations, ensuring staff are willing to embrace change that benefits them, and most importantly, students. This requires understanding what staff and students need, and how to introduce it in a way that encourages them to use it.

Listen to the benefits of moving to the cloud

Kirsten provides a fantastic insight into how her school has been transformed by moving to the cloud on an episode of my podcast, Edtech People. Listen below!

Categories: Blog