Enriching Learning Opportunities Through the Cloud

Apr 23, 2020

School and district leaders often are asked to do more with less, particularly when it comes to technology and classroom modernization. Leaders must ensure that every dollar spent on technology and innovation improves accessibility and operations, enriches learning, and prepares students to join the future workforce.

Future Ready Schools, with support from our partners at AWS, recently hosted Enriching Learning Opportunities Through the Cloud: Transforming Your Infrastructure to Support Student Outcomes webinar featuring Michael Coats from Southwest MiTech, and Dr. Travis Paakki from Portland (OR) Public Schools. The webinar focused on how leveraging cloud technology can create sustainable digital learning environments with measurable successes and increased efficiencies. Coats and Paakki shared their stories around the implementation of cloud solutions, including their strategic thinking, process, and vision; their unique plans for long-term growth and sustainability; how they managed their respective organizations’ transformation; and lessons learned from implementation.

At Southwest MiTech, the number of hosted and fully managed IT services increased significantly in recent years. In addition to managing and hosting some services for 40 districts, Southwest MiTech hosts and manages all of the IT servers for 18 full partner districts, including the buying, deploying and servicing of those servers. As the use of technology increased, Southwest MiTech couldn’t do what they wanted to do with their current on-premise data centers and needed an innovative solution. Education leaders embraced a cloud first philosophy—if a server can be hosted in the cloud, it should be.

Initially, Southwest MiTech applied the cloud first philosophy to new virtual servers and then prioritized the migration of existing servers to the cloud. Southwest MiTech created a plan for every server in the environment and identified what servers could move to the cloud environment. Coats stated that the platforms are really important, but so are the collaborative tools, including the software service offerings. One-third of districts are utilizing document storage in the cloud and Southwest MiTech is encouraging more districts to utilize shared drive cloud storage, especially during COVID-19 where remote working is the norm.

Portland Public Schools, a district with over 50,000 students, took a different approach to addressing IT challenges. With decreases in funding, an immediate need to upgrade servers and inadequate storage, Portland turned to the cloud for solutions. Portland took an aggressive approach and moved all services to the cloud, including virtual networking, virtual instances, operating systems, databases and ERP software within five months of starting the project. Portland utilized a “lift and shift” strategy to quickly move IT services to the cloud, rather than a re-engineering approach. Portland maintains application development and configuration in house and is continuing to seek more efficiencies.

The cloud removes the uncertainty around availability. “We’re not worried about staff showing up to work or the heat sensors”, Paaki said, and “I have people I can call if we get into trouble”

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is an important consideration when migrating services to the cloud. CoSN, a Future Ready partner, describes TCO as a “methodology that allows you to measure and understand the costs of acquiring and maintaining all of your networks, computers, devices, and staff.” Both Coats and Paakki stress the importance of taking into account the intangibles when considering transitioning to cloud services. Cloud solutions allow for automation, flexibility and enhanced security. Cloud solutions also provide resilience and redundancy that most districts don’t have the budget or capability to provide. Lastly, when evaluating the costs and benefits of cloud services, think about things that you might have previously considered unobtainable, such as disaster recovery and scalability.

Tips for Moving Services to the Cloud

  • Present a vision, outlining the benefits of cloud services
  • Make sure to get buy-in from leaders
  • Create a plan for every server in your environment.
  • Invest the time to identify your workloads
  • Look for a partner that might help you manage the workload when moving servers to the cloud.
  • Start with an easy application to provide proof of concept
  • Be transparent and manage expectations
  • Dedicate resources for training staff
  • Encourage innovation and think outside the box
  • Advocate for yourself if you’re a one-person shop



A special thanks to our partners at AWS for supporting this webinar.

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