Expert Perspectives on K–12 Information Technology

Flexible IT Infrastructure for an Evolving Education Environment

As education institutions aim to become more flexible to meet modern demands, teachers will continue operating under hybrid learning models — making the need for disruption-free virtual lessons and network access all the more critical. To best accommodate these needs, investing in a flexible IT infrastructure that can support remote-learning, especially as our country undergoes one of the most pivotal time periods in history, will be an important factor.

Cost-Efficient Solutions to Tackle Academic Resilience

Due to declining enrollment rates and increasing costs driven by COVID, schools are facing tight budget restrictions for the 2021-2022 academic year. Knowing this, IT departments should look toward cost-effective solutions that will support their remote workforce and students. A hybrid and multicloud environment, built on hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), is a proven model. It allows organizations to benefit from lower costs and the increased security of private cloud, for predictable workloads, while giving the flexibility to burst onto public cloud resources as needed. This allows institutions to more closely monitor IT infrastructure spending while gaining the flexibility necessary to quickly adapt.

At the start of the pandemic, school districts like Millard Public Schools in Nebraska were tasked with upgrading their IT infrastructure, simplifying operations and strengthening their business continuity plan to support distance learning for their 24,000 students. However, as a public school district, they needed to act with financial probity. Investing in HCI allowed the district to create a consistent and outstanding educational experience for students while providing ways to maximize investment. For example, instead of operating dedicated labs and buying hundreds of high-end workstations for students learning CAD, they now run virtual desktops on low-end laptops. Students can remotely access fully functional high-powered graphics, with limited financial investment needed.

Security Threats Remain and Must be Identified

In 2019 alone, 89 U.S. universities, colleges and school districts were victims of ransomware attacks, followed by at least 30 in the first five months of 2020. With the increase in the possibility of both outside and inside threats, schools and districts must be able to detect and mitigate unusual behavior within their networks such as failed authentications, unforeseen increases in network traffic, or large volumes of file uploads. Technologies that provide role-based access control, identity and access management, and multifactor authentication to allow only authorized users into programs and restrict them to certain activities will enable a stronger security posture. A unified hybrid and multicloud environment will also provide the necessary end-to-end visibility, and enable common security policies.

In addition to identity and behavioral analysis, microsegmentation to divide networks and application components into isolated segments can help minimize the degree of damage. Microsegmenting your virtual infrastructure is a method of creating zones to isolate attacks and stop them from spreading. When combined, these solutions can help companies detect and contain threats more quickly. In the event of an attack, microsegmentation can help limit the spread to a specific segment rather than to the entire organization.

Should a ransomware attack occur and result in loss of information, educational organizations should have a data and disaster recovery plan in place. Investment in Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) technologies, along with securing data and creating real-time copies of the data that’s stored within their network, allows for a quick response to limit any disruption to students’ daily learning and intellectual property.

Digital Transformation Efforts Increase Remote Communications

Each organization bases their IT investments on a unique set of criteria, but seamless communication has become a core, universal need for the education sector. The recently released annual Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) shows that nearly half (47%) of education respondents cited providing “adequate communications channels” among educators and their students as a top challenge.

As the possibility of hybrid education continues, investing in agile technologies will foster a seamless transition from a traditional environment to a virtual one. Though the future of education has yet to become clear, responses from the ECI found more respondents than average mentioned digital transformation (54%) and making the organization more agile (49%) as priorities as a result of COVID-19. With the ability to respond to changes quickly, IT teams can more easily leverage programs to accommodate the evolving needs of the student community.

For example, they must be agile enough to put hybrid learning processes into place on-demand. A scalable, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution, like what Texas’ Klein Independent School District implemented, provides students and teachers with a secure platform where they can access their application and data, regardless of location. Additionally, the onboarding process onto individual laptops takes minutes, instead of hours for each user.

Enabling teachers and students with the tools needed to support interactive, remote lessons is not only essential for institutions to continue serving their communities — but to ensure that students have the same academic experience as the generations before them. IT plays a crucial role in these evolving student and teacher experiences, and educational IT teams must invest in flexible, cost-effective solutions to support all aspects of the educational environment.

About the Author

Chip George is VP of Public Sector Sales, Nutanix