Remote learning and collaboration: How to set up your cloud storage strategy for success
With the UK in the midst of its third lockdown of the last twelve months, the enforced shift to remote learning has been a learning curve for schools, universities and other education providers, with teachers and students now required to access course materials and administrative documents via digital means. It has shown just how essential digital solutions are to creating a successful learning environment online.
Additionally, continued advances in the education sector mean that it’s an industry generating huge troves of data. The data produced is vast and varied: from research data to digitised library assets, student and faculty information, and video assets. As institutions continue to operate remotely, the scale of data is increasing rapidly.
The changing landscape of education requires that students and staff become more data literate. It also means that IT departments need to develop a comprehensive data management strategy for planning and implementing increasingly data-intensive education systems – one that’s efficient, compliant, and doesn’t cost the earth.
Keep your data secure
As data proliferates, one of the biggest demands for educational institutions is how to store their data cheaply and in a way that is easily and quickly accessible from everywhere.
Unless checked, organisations can easily lose control of where data is stored and how it is used. This can especially become a problem where IT security policy is concerned, so it is worth enforcing system wide protocols such as two-factor authentication to protect data against potential breaches from external threats or insiders.
A backup and disaster recovery solution is also essential. Here I’d advise adopting the ‘3-2-1 rule’ in association with cloud backups: keeping three copies of your data on at least two different formats with one copy offsite is also a good strategy. Should something happen to the primary copies of your data, your copies in the cloud will remain unaffected and will enable you to get back up to speed with little business impact. Moreover, a good storage provider should offer immutable buckets – a means of storage which renders contents fixed and unchangeable according to the minimum data immutability standards, to guard against accidental alterations or deletions.
Keep costs down
Given the growth in digital data, educational institutions are consuming far more storage space than they did a few years ago. In addition to student records and digital coursework, it’s increasingly common for institutions to need to store video lectures and other supplementary materials. Some universities have even created entire digital libraries and archives from offline resources that are accessible online to students and staff to bolster their offerings to students, teachers and faculty members.
When dealing with the petabytes of data generated by educational institutions, primary, on-prem storage can quickly eat up the IT budget as you keep needing to store more data. Cloud storage takes advantage of economies of scale, providing the ability to dynamically scale resources up or down as required, and is therefore a more cost-effective option for universities looking to store and access their data in a way that’s fast and easy to access.
However, that’s not to say all cloud storage solutions are equally economical. Many first-generation cloud providers, like Amazon or Google, don’t just charge customers based on the amount of data stored, but charge extra for accessing the data. This could quickly prove problematic for universities, if faculty members need frequent access to files. Fortunately, not all storage providers work on these models – a number of second generation services operate on all-you-can eat data models without any surprises in the form of egress fees.
IT decision makers should act as their own managed service providers (MSPs) – offering support for multiple cloud services, rather than being the gatekeepers of one provider. Rather than relying on outside MSPs to help them set up networks, provision compute resources, recommend and implement software, and so forth, education IT departments should play an active role in considering staff and student needs internally to help them choose the right solutions and avoid incompatible and fragmented services.
Embrace the hybrid cloud
Adopting a hybrid cloud approach can give you the ability to flexibly scale up on existing on-premises legacy systems. This approach enables you to keep on hand a larger amount of storage whilst relieving the stress on IT teams by moving some applications into public clouds.
With a hybrid cloud solution, IT decision makers can optimise infrastructure to meet a plethora of needs and diverse workload requirements. For example, there are applications that require rapid deployment and/or rapid scaling which are a better fit for public cloud. Other systems such as HR can be moved to a software as-a-service (SaaS) model to free up storage and on-prem capacities. With hybrid cloud, educational systems can dynamically shift workloads between on and off-premises environments based on specific performance, regulatory needs or for specific periods of time.
A hybrid cloud approach is also useful from a security perspective and can help combat the “shadow IT” problem. Key systems containing sensitive student and school data can remain in-house and behind an educational organisation’s firewall to safeguard student privacy and meet compliance regulations, whilst employees can be empowered to use public clouds for different use cases as appropriate.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has showcased the importance of transitioning an organisation’s infrastructure to a cloud-centric approach, something that’s been recommended as far back as 2019 by the UK’s Department for Education. Today, educators can see huge benefits from adopting next-generation cloud technologies, and the transition needn’t be costly nor complex – and to protect the future of remote learning and collaboration, it’s no longer a want, but a need.