The Raytown Quality Schools in Missouri have nearly a decade of experience with managing a private cloud. The district operates a fully virtualized server environment using VMWare and is upgrading its storage capacity to more than 500 terabytes this summer.
“We look at each individual system to see if it’s best for us to host it or have the provider host it,” said Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of instructional technology for the district. “But when it comes to data that needs to be stored—my security video, my file storage—I’m going to host it internally in a private cloud instead of paying someone to host it, because I can buy storage cheaper, I can manage and secure it and know that I have control over what’s happening with it.”
Tebbenkamp said it makes financial sense for Raytown to host the majority of its data in a private cloud, because the district has made the up-front investment to make this possible. “For us, it’s significantly cheaper just because we have that volume of scale internally,” she said.
One exception is email: Raytown stopped hosting its own Microsoft Exchange system last year and adopted Gmail, hosted by Google in the public cloud. “Exchange is a beast to manage,” Tebbenkamp explained, adding that it made more sense for the district to use Google’s free program than to spend time and money on email storage, backup, and retention.
When K-12 leaders are considering whether to trust a public cloud provider, they should do their homework, Tebbenkamp said: How much room does a given cloud provider allow for negotiating within contracts to ensure data security? What processes are in place to protect data?
“For me, if I have an employee terminated, I take certain steps to make sure they no longer have access to data,” she noted. “What do they do on their side?”
If you’re going to create a private cloud, “your data center switching is critical,” she said. “Do you have the switching to keep up with the speeds you’re going to need internally?”
You also have to evaluate what kind of data you’re working with and then find the right storage solution for your needs. And, “you’ve got to have the staff on site to be able to manage your storage and servers.”
Bob Moore, a former school district CIO who runs an ed-tech advisory firm called RJM Strategies, has a different take on private clouds in K-12 education.
It’s not the physical location of the data that is important, Moore argues—it’s the access to this information. He questions whether it’s worth the cost and effort for most districts to create their own private clouds.
“If you want to use Google Apps for Education, Microsoft 365, or any one of the [hundreds] of online services and mobile apps, you are going to give up physical control of the systems,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to give up control of your data.”
Moore recommends that school IT leaders focus on identity management to create a “virtual” private cloud. “Let Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others manage the technology,” he said.
The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for more than 17 years. Dennis can be reached at email@example.com.