Expert Viewpoint

When Does It Make Sense to Move Legacy Technology to the Cloud?

As school districts have returned to campus this fall, education leaders will be monitoring IT and ed tech spend. Performance and cost will be top of mind. While many districts continue to move to cloud environments due to their collaboration capabilities, scalability, and improved security, sometimes legacy systems can make sense too.

Legacy systems — including mainframes, operating systems, computer labs, desktop devices, applications, and network equipment — remain critical to K–12 operations. IT leaders may choose to keep these systems because they are highly customizable. Legacy systems may still meet the district's needs, which alone can outweigh the costs and heavy lifting of moving to the cloud.

Legacy technology is here to stay, but IT leaders must be cognizant of the cybersecurity risks that these systems pose — and whether a move to the cloud is best for the district.

As schools continue to monitor their districts performance throughout the year, let’s look at these risks when it makes sense to migrate to the cloud and how districts can do so without compromising visibility, performance, and security.

Vulnerabilities in legacy systems can make schools attractive targets

Sputtering laptops, desktops with insufficient memory, outdated software, and overloaded WiFi networks are some classroom technology challenges teachers and administrators frequently encounter as school kicks off. Aside from interrupting the daily activities of teachers, students, and IT pros, many of these technologies are no longer supported by vendors and go unpatched — leaving them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Due to squeezed budgets, schools are particularly vulnerable because outdated, unprotected systems are easier to penetrate. In September 2022, the Los Angeles Unified School District was targeted in a ransomware attack that exploited an unpatched vulnerability impacting 640,000 students just as they returned to school.

Because most cyberattacks against the education sector result from security weaknesses in ed tech providers' products and systems and schools, remain a top target, districts always need to consider ways to be one step ahead of bad actors.

When to migrate to the cloud

To solve the security and technology modernization needs of K–12 schools, some believe the answer is to completely replace older, legacy technology with cloud-based solutions. But the cloud also comes with challenges. If migration plans aren't executed properly — and with security baked in from the get-go — service availability, school operations, and budgets can suffer.

What legacy infrastructure makes sense to migrate to the cloud? Some systems are easier and less costly to move — such as migrating a school district's email platform from on-premises to a supported cloud solution like Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace.

However, migrating more complex, customized, and outdated legacy tech can lead to challenges. In these cases, starting small with the cloud may make sense while maintaining some on-site systems—a state of hybrid IT.

Achieving visibility into hybrid IT environments

But as districts shift towards hybrid IT, they must achieve centralized visibility into these complex, distributed environments — on-premises, in the cloud, and across multi-clouds. Instead of relying on disparate performance and security monitoring tools, newer approaches stress observability.

Observability gives IT pros end-to-end oversight of IT infrastructure, network, and services — while eliminating tool sprawl, reducing alert fatigue, and simplifying administration and support.

Instead of reacting to security and performance issues as they occur, observability enables a proactive approach, continuously and automatically analyzing the hybrid environment, detecting anomalies, and predicting conditions that may impact users or capacity constraints. And it does so seamlessly and automatically, even as more services are deployed.

Combining the benefits of legacy and the cloud: securely and with confidence

Not all schools have the budgets to upgrade legacy technology immediately — or even the time to do the extra work throughout the year. But they can start small by shifting certain systems and applications to the cloud. And, when they're ready, further their cloud modernization efforts, confident they have complete observability across their expanding hybrid environment and the agility to ensure service availability and stay one step ahead of cyber threats.

About the Author

John Wilson is director, SLED and Healthcare, at SolarWinds.