Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Move It or Lose It: The Vulnerability and Inefficiency of Backing Up Data On-Site Is Prompting School Districts to Switch to More Secure, Less Troublesome Cloud-Based Options

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Move It or Lose It: The Vulnerability and Inefficiency of Backing Up Data On-Site Is Prompting School Districts to Switch to More Secure, Less Troublesome Cloud-Based Options

Article excerpt

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WHEN MOST K-12 SCHOOL districts consider the risks to their data, chances are they're not worried about their proximity to a nuclear power plant, or that they're located directly in the eye of the escape route from a major metropolitan area. But for the Hendrick Hudson School District, located in Montrose, NY, just 40 minutes outside the Big Apple, both concerns spurred district auditors to push for a better way to back up their data than the on-site, tape-based system the district had been using for years.

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"Both of these factors essentially increase our vulnerability to a regional or local power disruption," says Mathew Swerdloff, the district's director of technology. "We needed to make sure that if the district were ever shut down, our data was safely backed up. And the unreliability and inefficiency of tape just wasn't cutting it."

About three years ago, Hendrick Hudson replaced its old data-backup structure with an off-site, web-based system, referred to by some as storage as a service, or StaaS--an offshoot of software as a service (SaaS)--but more commonly known as cloud storage. The district, which numbers nearly 2,800 students, is one of many school districts taking first, albeit tentative, steps toward moving their data into the cloud.

"I have my reservations about cloud storage in general," Swerdloff says, "but there's no doubt about the effectiveness for us of cloud-based backup. The system has saved us a ton of time, and the hassle factor, compared to tape, is zero."

Send in the Cloud

There was a time, not that long ago, when school districts showed little interest in storing or backing up their data to remote servers. Nothing seemed less secure than handing off data to someone else. But in the last few years the buzz around cloud storage has grown louder, and the idea that data backup could be provided as a service has begun to gain traction in K-12 environments.

"Think of cloud storage as a giant website," says Steve Lesem, founder and CEO of Mezeo, maker of the Mezeo Cloud Storage Platform. "It's designed and architected exactly the way you would a giant website, but instead of serving web pages, it's serving files."

The concept is straightforward, but the terminology can be bewildering. The software-as-a-service model is about delivering software over the internet on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis. It initially proved itself in sales-force automation and customer relationship management, and now is widely used by organizations for things like computerized billing, invoicing, human resource management, and service desk management. The success of SaaS spawned other "as a service" models, including platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, identity as a service, security as a service, the hard-to-believe hardware as a service, and the inevitable anything as a service. Each comes with its own tidy acronym; anything as a service goes by, fittingly, XaaS.

"The jargon in this space is always evolving," says Michael Cote, IT industry analyst for RedMonk. "While the stack of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS has a nice clarity to it, 'cloud' is a much more powerful marketing word, and people seem to prefer it. At the end of the day, what we're talking about is secure access to metered but cheap, and virtually unlimited, data storage over the internet."

In the long run, the benefits of cloud storage are likely to overcome any current reservations some school districts have about the model, says Adam Couture, principal research analyst at Gartner. Until then, districts are getting a toe in the cloud through cloud backup.

"I get calls from school districts all the time about cloud storage," Couture says. "I see some increasing interest in cloud storage in general--the software-agnostic IaaS [infrastructure as a service] offerings, such as Amazon's EC2, that provide compute and storage capacity you pay for on a usage basis. …

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