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A collaboration in the cloud: Advancing K-12 technology innovation

We believe we make a strong case for thinking outside of the traditional IT program box when it comes to delivering IT services and solutions to your schools

cloud-computing-innovationToday’s reality of budgetary shortfalls and limited resources make it challenging for K-12 districts around the country to effectively address the technology needs of schools, students and teachers they serve.

This common challenge is what brought our two information technology centers, Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) and Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA), together.

NWOCA and TRECA are state-chartered not-for-profit organizations which provide computer and technical services to Ohio county agencies. We realized that if we collaborated on a cloud-based storage solution for our customers – Ohio K-12 schools and school districts – we would be able to deliver a much richer set of services far beyond what we would have been able to offer on our own.

Our collaboration is a practice that signals a groundswell in the way school districts will approach technology in today’s hyper-connected society.

Collaboration in the Cloud

When a changeover in the student information systems for the school districts which both technology centers support required a move to a new web-based student information system, it became obvious that a significant infrastructure upgrade would be necessary.

Moving to a virtual environment and sharing infrastructure resources would establish the capacity that each of our organizations needed to provide services to district schools. This kind of radical direction change does not happen in a vacuum. We knew we would need partners and IT leaders who would provide us with more than just hardware.

We knew we needed direction and support and we were lucky to find the help and support we needed our two IT partners. They set about to engineer a solution that would not only serve our customers’ immediate need, but also lay the foundation for future growth. Ultimately, it was a combination of NetApp’s FAS3250, Cisco UCS, and NetApp’s FAS2240 that did the trick.

One of our biggest challenges was overcoming a common IT manager’s demand — the need to have gear where you can see it, touch it and tweak it. We knew this was going to be one of the hardest challenges to overcome – letting go of the physical ownership of gear. The decision to focus on services from the cloud went a long way towards eliminating many of the concerns about the location of the hardware.

IT telephony and wireless managed services were set up through a virtualized datacenter that both NWOCA and TRECA were able to utilize. This was one of the moves that helped us mitigate the “ownership” issue. Each organization paid for what was needed. Collectively, we all knew the best infrastructure solution for meeting the needs of Ohio school districts. We created a common goal and we worked together to achieve it.

Return on Investment

Our advice for organizations looking to modernize is start with a goal. If you can agree on a mission and vision for the new organization, then when you run into roadblocks you can go back to that vision and let it drive you through the issues. You might think the idea of delivering services to constituents and improving the satisfaction level of schools, students, teachers and administration officials is enough – it’s not.

It all comes down to one thing—the needs of the students. When your team creates a mission with the vision of the students at the core, you can overcome any obstacles in your path. From the outset, NWOCA and TRECA envisioned how our collaboration would deliver a better, less expensive and more complete portfolio of technology services to our students —it was that commitment that allowed us to make that vision a reality.

As we moved forward with our project plan and execution, we quickly discovered we were on the right track. Each successful milestone resulted in new opportunities for us to explore additional ways we could leverage shared resources to benefit our students, teachers and schools.

A significant return on investment was seen pretty early on in our collaboration. Our partners NetApp and MCPc were able to show us how to use deduplication and provisioning to extend the life of the storage we purchased. It became clear to us that the storage we expected to only last for five years would be able to serve us much beyond that point.

One of the most significant enhancements was the benefit we received from working as a cohesive team. Job turnover in one technology center was backfilled by employees from the other. By standardizing on NetApp storage across the technology centers, there was no learning curve. Our technology centers have been able to work together to develop back-up strategies to help improve service for all of the school districts. Additionally, the ability to migrate between data stores has enabled us to create a much more robust virtualized environment.

Best Practices

Together, we learned a valuable lesson: To successfully collaborate on non-traditional models of IT, our service delivery had just as much to do with these intangible elements as with the technology solutions we sought to provide. Knowing we couldn’t deliver on the vision by doing it alone, our focus and understanding of these critical items resulted in a successful partnership – and a fulfilled commitment to our students and staff.

We believe we make a strong case for thinking outside of the traditional IT program box when it comes to delivering IT services and solutions to your schools. Start with a vision, create a collective mission and use those two anchors to help you overcome the objections along the way.

Joe Prchlik, Director of Operations and Technology, Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) and Michael Struck, Director of IT Infrastructure and Development, Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA).

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