Administrators and information technology staff at Hudson Falls Central School District in Kingsbury, N.Y., found that individually managed computers were costing them an inordinate amount of time and money. This small suburban school district uses 1,400 desktop computers and its IT staff needs to continually update software, fix problems and keep settings consistent. According to Brian Becker, director of education for Hewlett- Packard, who works with the Hudson Falls district, IT support needs were "overwhelming" the staff.
Expenses rose further because the 2,500 students required massive data storage to save their work, in addition to the memory required for continual software and hardware updates. "There was a constant need to update software on individual computers, which was extremely time consuming," says Greg Partch, the district's director of educational technology. "Often some computers would have a program, but it wouldn't be installed yet on others."
Students were also unable to access their work remotely from another desktop. In order to work from home, they needed to save documents to a USB drive or e-mail work to themselves. Programs used at school were only accessible at home if families purchased the programs or storage devices, which administrators felt was too much to ask of this low-income community.
Hudson Falls has been able to counter these problems by deploying HP's School- Cloud solutions. Moving applications and data to servers in a central data center has allowed the district to reduce deskside IT support and focus their limited IT staff's time on more strategic activities. Simply loading a new software application once in the data center makes it immediately available to the entire student body. The greater uptime keeps students and teachers focused on learning, not trying to resolve IT issues.
According to Partch, Hudson Falls went from managing 1,400 computers to managing just 10 servers. Each is equipped with long-lasting thin-client memory technology. "We have far more available memory space, and no fear of losing data," Partch says.
The software license metering capability within SchoolCloud saves the district money by allowing schools to only buy the number of licenses they will use. Moving all the applications to servers in the data center also makes it possible to have all the district's applications available from any client station, so students and staff can move throughout the school, even go home, and still get the applications and data they need.
Hudson Falls has also been able to save money on energy costs, as serverbased computing has reduced the total IT-related energy consumption within the schools, lowering both electrical costs as well as potential wiring costs.
In the past, Hudson Falls administrators lacked adequate IT usage data to understand the efficacy of technology in their district. They can now access vital usage data—who used each computer and application, and for what period of time. Correlating this data with student achievement and attendance data has allowed Hudson Falls administrators to better gauge and understand the impact technology is having on student performance.
Cloud computing systems like School- Cloud could present some challenges for some districts, particularly within a lowincome school community such as Hudson Falls. "Many of our impoverished families cannot afford a broadband Internet connection. Their inability to connect to our rich resources distances them further from a 21st-century learning experience," says Partch. As a solution, administrators made sure that students were able to access the school cloud from the local public library, ensuring that they can access the system outside of school even without the Internet at home.
According to Superintendent Mark Doody, "The transition from individual desktops to cloud computing was very easy," adding that administrators are assured that data are safe and secure even in the event of the complete destruction of the secure central building where servers are kept, as there are data recovery areas across campus. "I would absolutely recommend cloud computing for K12 districts," he adds. "We are extremely pleased with it."
In the face of budget cuts and a staggering economy, cloud computing could be the most cost-efficient, money-saving practice IT departments can adopt.
KeriLee Horam is an editorial intern.