State education officials look to the cloud for cost savings
During the weekend of May 21, technology officials with the Kentucky Department of Education took a bold step toward the future by switching the email, communications and collaboration capabilities for 174 school districts to Microsoft’s Live@edu cloud-based computing service. The result was a smooth transition that is garnering national attention.
By KEVIN KINNAIRD
David Couch, the chief information officer and associate commissioner of educational technology at the Kentucky Department of Education, said the weeks leading up to the agency's migration to cloud computing were anxious ones for members of his technology staff.
Speaking to an audience of state technology leaders during a June 13 webinar for the National Association of Chief Information Officers, Couch said every school district in the state was relying on his team (along with officials from Microsoft and the school district IT staff) to successfully prepare for and implement the largest migration of e-mail accounts to the cloud in U.S. history.
“I told my wife the week before we did this that if this goes really bad my name is going to be on the top half of every newspaper in the state ‘education leader drives state into the ground,’ and if it goes really good you won't hear anything about it,” Couch said. “Of course they didn't hear anything about it.
The team had already guided four of the state’s school districts through a successful pilot program prior to the mass migration and felt confident the switch would work. During the weekend of May 21, officials successfully moved nearly 700,000 e-mail accounts to the cloud.
“It has gotten more national attention than anything we've done in the last 18 years and I think we have been first in a lot of things we have done,” Couch said. “I knew how well it had gone here when the main things people were complaining about was some of their distribution lists didn't work the way they wanted them to.”
Chuck Austin, the product manager who orchestrated the Live@EDU migration, said all of the planning and research will save taxpayers more than $6.4 million in cost avoidance within five years. The cost of deploying 174 servers, licensing, and other hosted services like spam prevention can now be avoided, he said.
"The number one requirement David laid at my feet - and I think most folks can understand in tough budget times and when you have a small staff - is ‘get me out of the e-mail business,’” Austin said. “Because it's just problematic – it is low payoff, high risk when you look at the demands that are being placed on us.”
Customers wanted advanced functionality, advanced or increased capacity, and they wanted improved accessibility, Austin said. Cloud computing met all of those requirements for a very attractive price, and took away the cost to upgrade and sustain, he said.
"You can take those (costs) off the table and shift those to someone else - there's a huge advantage to that."
Users of Live@EDU have 10 gigabytes of mail storage and 25 gigs of file storage so people can collaborate on documents and projects. Other features include document sharing, instant messaging, video chat, mobile e-mail and much more.
Part of the success of the project, Couch said is owed to provisions in the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. The act allowed KDE to set standards for technology - leverage the agency has been able to successfully use for two decades to implement state technology product and design standards. He also added that at the state level, the requirements to adhere to existing state standards (Microsoft Exchange) and also existing state legislation (SB230 – which outlines the requirement for institutional ownership of data) were extremely important requirements that the Microsoft solution also met.
“It allows us to do sophisticated things that our peers across the U.S. cannot do,” Couch said.
Couch said the Kentucky General Assembly in 2006 approved a significant upgrade of communications lines across the state to allow for greater capacity. The state also refreshed student and teacher workstations and paved the way for the necessary upgrade to the existing Enterprise Active Directory infrastructure which services every school and district.
“Those three components allowed us to take a look at putting Live@EDU in place,” Couch said. “You must have a robust infrastructure in place to implement (Live@EDU).”