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6 IT nightmares plaguing schools-and 6 solutions to stop them

Many school IT departments are struggling to create new data backup and business continuity practices.

From constricted budgets to needing to protect large numbers of devices and users, educational institutions face a unique set requirements for data protection and business continuity.

As a result, many school IT departments are struggling to create new data backup and business continuity practices. However, all is not lost and there is no need to create these from scratch, as leading education institutions are already leveraging enterprise-class protection capabilities.

Here are six facts that experts in educational backup and continuity services already know:

Challenge #1: Budget

There is perhaps no industry with more budget restraints than education. Most school districts have few IT resources with little time that can be spent managing backups and recovering lost files. If ever there was an industry that is required to do more with less, it is education.

Every moment spent managing and troubleshooting backup issues is time not available for IT’s real job: working with the administration to improve student education. Carl Jaspersohn, associate director of Infrastructure, Boston Architectural College commented “We have a small IT administrative staff with very little cross-training/overlap in responsibilities. Our budget isn’t big compared to larger schools, but demands on IT are still high due to the nature of the work done here.”

What the Experts Know – Educational institutions are now selecting backup and continuity appliances and purpose built devices, to replicate data locally to a remote location or to the cloud. Appliances are easy to deploy and have a user interface dedicated to scheduling, monitoring and managing backup files. The best backup appliances can also serve as a recovery platform since the backup data files are already on the appliance. This provides business continuity in case the original server or application is unavailable.

Challenge #2: Security Requirements

The protection requirements of educational institutions are different from other industries. Education is unique in that there are large numbers of fairly unsophisticated users who are prone to making mistakes. They are quick to click on dangerous links or delete and lose files that they may need in the future. Bryan Young, network administrator, Rocky Hill, CN Public Schools stated “The school district consists of an enrollment of about 2,600 students with more than 3,000 user accounts, 2,000 devices, and 50 servers as well as a network that spans across six locations.”

In a 2016 study by CoSN, nearly 90 percent of education respondents expect their instructional materials to be at least 50 percent digital within the next three years. The volume of data is growing quickly, and the most requested data recovery service in educational institutions is to restore files or folders that have been mistakenly deleted.

What the Experts Know – It should take you less than 5 minutes to log on, find the requested file in the backup repository, and restore it to the user account. This is possible with disk-based backups and the five-minute rule should apply whether you are restoring an individual file, folder or entire data set. The User Interface (UI) of the appliance should be easy enough for untrained staff to perform this task, as restores are far and away the most requested data backup job required of IT staffers.

(Next page: IT challenges 3-6)

k-12 ransomware

Challenge #3: Ransomware

Cryptolocker, Cerber, CryptoWall, Crysis, etc., are all variants of ransomware, a problem that has reached epidemic levels. It is a billion-dollar criminal enterprise with up to 60 percent of US enterprises reporting that they have been attacked. Education supports very large numbers of users that easily fall for “click-bait”. Adolescents are heavy users of social media, which is often a preferred vehicle for ransomware pirates. Most educational institutions have already experienced a ransomware attack. In fact, Gary Halbedel, network administrator, Bethlehem, NY Central School District said “We’ve had two separate ransomware incidents where users informed me that their files were encrypted with a message about paying a ransom. It was trivial and quick for me to restore the data from the backup appliance.”

What the Experts Know – Data backups and the ability to roll the infrastructure back to its state prior to the attack is the only real defense against ransomware. Even the FBI agrees. Look for a solution that will automatically do security scans against your production applications, but use your backup data instead. It can spin up your applications in a specific order, isolate them from production, execute security tests, and automate reports and alerts immediately upon detection of ransomware. Most importantly, restoration of corrupted data sets should take just minutes.

broadband internet

Challenge #4: Older EdTech

As a result of tight budgets, older products and applications are kept functioning well beyond their advertised useful life. Most education institutions have a broad and diverse number of operating systems and applications that need protection. This creates the need for multiple backup and recovery processes with each supporting a limited number of IT assets. Backup and recovery becomes a complex process, as the IT staff must juggle multiple applications and ensure that they can interoperate with no gaps in coverage. Michael Shellito, server administrator, Enid, Oklahoma Public Schools noted. “The district is VMware-centric, with servers that include Windows 2003 to 2012R2, Linux, Red Hat, and SUSE. We have SQL, Oracle and Exchange databases and servers that are each critical to our operations.”

What the Experts Know – Look for a solution that has broad coverage of hundreds of operating systems, hypervisors and applications, providing protection whether virtualized, physical or in the cloud. A single appliance should be able to protect everything in your datacenter, so there are not multiple backup tools with gaps in protection. Also, you should not be charged for agents every time you install a new server or deploy an additional application. If you are spending more than 1 hour per week managing backups you need a new solution.

Challenge #5: Lots of Data

Most educational institutions must manage and protect TBs of data. Since much of it is about minors, data elements such as student information, social security numbers, financial records, and addresses need special protection. There are federally mandated requirements around data retention and privacy outline bylaws such as Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations (FERPA).  Additionally, each state has individual laws that may be relevant such as California’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA). Lastly, student health records must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Ross Randall, director of IT, Lamar County Schools, MS said, “Few industries match K12 education’s massive amounts of data and users accessing the data. When access to that data fails, I fail.

What the Experts Know – Backup appliances must include the ability to encrypt targeted files so that they cannot be accessed illegally. They should support the latest encryption technology, built-in AES 256-bit encryption to protect designated data files both at-rest and/or in-flight. Cloud retention and disaster recovery must also use a HIPAA compliant and vendor specific cloud, so educational institutions understand exactly who has access and management responsibility so they can be held accountable for data security.

Challenge #6: Location

There is one advantage that the education industry has over others; the geographic dispersion of their locations. Most small to medium enterprises conduct business out of a single location, so finding a remote location for storing and securing secondary backups becomes a challenge. Not so for the education industry, as school departments are generally spread across town to serve students in all locations. This makes adding remote data protection easier and cost effective. Randall noted, “I have dual RECOVERY 814S appliances. One sits in the data center as the primary and the other is secured in a school site about 30 miles north. The secondary syncs with the primary to ensure a redundant backup solution.”

What the Experts Know – Schools take advantage of this geographic dispersal to create and manage their own backup and recovery architecture. The secondary location should be able to spin up failed servers and applications in seconds since backup copies of the data are already resident there. You should also be able to manage both locations and multiple backup appliances with a single interface “pane of glass” so there are no coordination issues with multiple command centers.

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