As COVID-19 Pushes Schools to Their Limit, the Cloud Shows Its Worth
By Jim Hansen
August 18, 2020
For educators, students, and parents, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning has been profound. Thousands of schools across the U.S. closed their doors this spring and made the shift to distance learning. It’s a model many, quite frankly, weren’t prepared for. And as the fall start of school looms while the pandemic continues, educators, administrators, school staff, and school district boards continue to debate the right path forward. The ability of educational institutions to enable remote learning, deliver course content, and connect schools and students during this time is hinged on how they leverage technology—specifically cloud computing.
It’s clear institutions using the cloud have and will continue to thrive; while those who don’t, won’t.
With this in mind, let’s look at where cloud adoption stands, the difference it’s made during COVID, and why in a post-COVID world—if and when it arrives—it’s imperative for schools and colleges to close the cloud divide.
What’s up in the cloud?
Cloud services—whether infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), or software-as-a-service (SaaS)—aren’t new concepts in the education sector. In fact, a large percentage of institutions are already adopting a cloud-first strategy. A recent pre-COVID study showed 82% of education institutions host their email or productivity systems in the cloud, 52% leverage cloud-based learning management systems (LMS), and 39% store curriculum content in the cloud.
Though cloud computing is experiencing a steady uptick in the sector, there’s still much to be done. It’s true many administrative functions have moved to the cloud, but progress toward learning through cloud technology remains slow. Likewise, at the infrastructure level, many K-12 districts still rely on costly and inflexible on-premises data centers instead of more agile, cost-efficient, and cloud-delivered information technology (IT) services.
How the Cloud Benefits the Learning Community, Pre- and Post-COVID
Like it or not, the forced transition to online learning has many in K-12 and higher education sectors rethinking their cloud strategies—and for good reason. The scalability, elasticity, and cost savings afforded by SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS cloud service models are critical to addressing the operational challenges institutions must confront in a post-COVID world.
Consider IaaS. By moving infrastructure services—including hardware, network, and servers—from the data center to the cloud, IaaS gives users all the benefits of on-premises computing resources without the overhead. This allows IT to shift focus from keeping data centers operational to delivering more value-driven, meaningful services to the organization and its constituents.
IaaS is also a highly flexible cloud model and makes it easy for schools to scale, upgrade, and add resources as needed, without paying upfront and ongoing maintenance costs for new hardware. Then when usage is low, such as during weekends and vacation periods, they can easily scale back resources. Costs are kept low because the organization only pays for the resources it uses.
These capabilities were well-known before COVID, but the imperative of shifting to a remote learning model propelled them to the forefront. Imagine trying to find the budget or even the space in a traditional data center for the compute capacity needed to support a surge in demand for remote access to applications and services. To meet this need; education institutions required an agile, flexible, and scalable infrastructure only the cloud can enable.
PaaS brings similar resource savings as education institutions contract out operating systems, database management, and application design and development using cloud platform tools. Like IaaS, users can access hardware and software on-demand without the need to purchase, install, and maintain the infrastructure.
Finally, there’s SaaS. Demand for SaaS applications—such as education delivery platforms, student portals, collaboration tools, and more—saw a significant boost during the pandemic. SaaS gives users the flexibility to work from anywhere via their device of choice, share files, and collaborate with ease. Teachers can also control the flow of information to their students, ensure a safe learning environment, and keep parents in the loop on student progress.
SaaS schools aren’t locked into costly enterprise or perpetual licenses, instead they pay as they go and have the flexibility to add or remove users at the click of a button. IT teams benefit too. There are no maintenance or upgrades to worry about—the cloud provider does it all.
Educators Must Accelerate Adoption to Thrive
The benefits of cloud computing for the education sector are significant. It’s a model designed to serve the needs of mobile-centric and convenience-driven students who have quickly grown accustomed to fingertip access to learning. For educators, the cloud streamlines class assignments, provides ease of access to content, and offers unparalleled opportunities for collaboration and guided learning. And for IT teams, nothing matches the convenience of the cloud when needing to scale up applications and new learning experiences quickly and at a low cost.
We don’t know how long COVID will be with us, but one thing is certain: schools must be prepared for whatever comes next. Whether it’s a snow day, a natural disaster, or another pandemic, those institutions who have invested in the technologies needed to deliver educational continuity will be the ones best positioned to ensure they and their community of learners thrive.
Jim Hansen is the Vice President of Product Strategy at SolarWinds.
Featured Image: Ivy Jaan, Unsplash.