IT Trends | Q&A
Cloud Storage in the Real World
The cloud, in theory, is supposed to help make the lives of IT professionals in schools a little bit easier. Assuming all of the privacy issues are addressed, does the practice support the theory?
According to Larry Steinke, technology director Saint Francis High School, it does. The private co-educational, college-preparatory school in Mountain View, CA, has approximately 1,700 students, more than 100 faculty members, and only two IT staff people. Overwhelmed by the need to support multiple devices accessing e-mail, documents, and Internet, in addition to all of the usual network duties in a school, Saint Francis turned to the cloud for help.
In addition to moving away from an on-site system backup, the school is leveraging other cloud resources to manage access to data via the cloud. Expensive yet essential resources--such as disaster recovery--are coming down in price and improving accessibility for school IT staff, Steinke said. As a result, Steinke said, his staff has more time, and everyone is getting better service.
Margo Pierce: What promoted your decision to move to cloud storage, and why did you choose the service providers you chose?
Larry Steinke: We have chosen various cloud service providers based upon their demonstrated ability to meet our objectives for data storage, reliability, compatibility, and cost. With respect to disaster recovery, cloud storage also removes many of the issues related to hardware and software compatibility. We can also review and recover backup files from a central location without the need to find tapes or compatible tape drives.
Pierce: You are using the cloud for e-mail, Web services, directory services, cross-platform support, databases, business office support, teacher files, and student files. Are there any other services you use that are leveraging the cloud?
Steinke: Those are all primarily the applications and data we store using the cloud. Remote file access has greatly benefited from our inclusion [of] cloud services. Both hosted and private [on-site] cloud solutions have opened collaborative opportunities that simply were not possible due to costs or complexity in the past.
Pierce: What are the top benefits you get from using the cloud for data storage and services?
Steinke: Key features we see through the use of a cloud-based data protection solution include:
- The simplification and automation of our backup process has improved dramatically. It now takes just two minutes to add a new server to be protected by the solution, when before it could take hours, maybe days, to configure.
- We can instantly access data we need easily via the Web. Access is device-agnostic allowing us to support end-users according to their device of choice. We support iPads, MacBooks, PCs and Android devices for accessing files.
- Third-party cloud solutions such as Zetta, Box.net, Dropbox, eBackpack, and others have reduced their costs over the last couple years, making such solutions increasingly competitive with on-site enterprise storage solutions.
Pierce: Have there been any surprises?
Steinke: We were pleased to learn that some cloud solutions come with robust online monitoring and reporting tools, which make managing the data relatively simple.
For example, with Zetta we have a one-stop view of all of our backup targets and their status. And, if there ever is a problem, I get an e-mail right away from the system, and the Zetta.net tech support is already on it to help. Each of the cloud providers employ specialists that are experts in storage and server maintenance. Using these solutions is, in effect, similar to hiring additional system administrators to assist our day-to-day operations.
Pierce: Hop up on the soap box so that you can share anything you like about cloud storage.
Steinke: When it comes to managing data for an educational organization, you have many different "customers" to serve. And each has a different level of technology skill and knowledge. Especially if you have students using computer labs where important files and work can easily become lost--and are needed right away at finals time. Having a reliable data protection strategy that is easy and effortless to manage makes everyone more successful.
It's also a huge relief to know that all your data is protected in case of a natural disaster. Having a cloud-based solution for storage and backup gives me the peace of mind knowing that our school's data is reliably protected and easy to recover at any time--whether it's a single file or entire servers.
Margo Pierce is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.