Episode 3: IT IQ Series – How the cloud multiplies Australian schools’ resources

Summary: Adopting the cloud can help educational institutions slash costs, increase level of security and more importantly, provide future-ready learning outcomes.

Can Australian schools keep up with the costs of and demand for digital learning? Today’s educators and staff are incorporating more digital solutions into their lessons and workloads than ever before. That’s putting rising pressure on existing server infrastructure, and existing storage, compute, network resources are already starting to feel the squeeze.

But with school budgets already stretched thin, the economics of adding new servers or replacing existing ones doesn’t add up for many Australian schools. Like their counterparts in other industries, many educators have turned to cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure for a more cost-effective and flexible way of supporting digital education.

“The fact is, schools would prioritise investments in areas that will help improve student grades or better learning outcomes, because those are the metrics that determine the effectiveness of most Australian schools,” says Mark Tigwell, an Azure technologist at Microsoft. “The adoption of the cloud is a cost-effective solution that would allow schools to cope with rising demand for computing power, without compromising the quality and depth of digital experiences in the classroom. You’re effectively multiplying what you can do with your existing budget, both in terms of volume and depth of the digital experiences you offer your students.”

Power that Comes with Reduced Costs

Porting data and operations onto the cloud frees schools from needing on-site server racks or rooms. IT managers no longer need to procure new equipment every few years or maintain as much existing hardware, meaning less expenditure in the long run. On a monthly basis, schools stand save on utility bills by reducing their fleet of servers, along with the air-conditioning units used to cool them.

“The absence of servers also means one less thing for IT administrators to worry about. They can devote their attention toward supporting the tech needs of educators and students, ensuring lessons aren’t disrupted and thus helping improve learning outcomes,” says Tigwell. “The removal of bulky servers from premises also frees up room that schools can use for storage of additional teaching resources or equipment.”

But the greater advantage that the cloud presents to schools is the ability to adjust usage to correspond with peak periods in the academic calendar. With public clouds like Azure, schools can buy more computing power at the start of the academic year, where there is usually an influx of registrations and documentation, scale up as the school term progresses, and dial usage down to a minimum at the end of the school term.

“Disruptions to lessons often happen when a school or institution’s server infrastructure buckles under the demands of multiple programs, devices and learning management systems. This doesn’t just frustrate educators, but also generates a ‘chilling effect’ that limits their confidence in using technology for future lessons,” says Tigwell. “But with Azure, IT managers can anticipate the rise and dips in usage, and plan ahead to the daily needs of the school’s ecosystem. This sort of flexibility just isn’t possible with typical server setups, where procurement and setup takes a considerable amount of time.”

Making Learning Digital and Secure

But the cloud can be so much more. Most cloud services for education come bundled with learning resources and certifications that educators can take advantage of. In Azure’s case, collaborative class activities can be formed around learning material on Microsoft Imagine Academy, while vocational and cloud-based skills can be honed in students through certification on the Microsoft Virtual Academy platform.

“Since the cloud is becoming a fundamental for many businesses, it makes sense to give Australia’s future generations the right start, by introducing them to skills that will be in high demand by the time they graduate,” Tigwell says. “The breadth of courseware on the Microsoft Azure platform can be immediately utilised by educators to train basic skills used in vocations such as computer science, IT administration and data science.”

Data security is as critical for schools as it is for businesses: a breach can compromise school records, cripple services, and potentially disrupt digital learning lessons for students. But instead of committing substantial amounts toward data protection software or services, schools can enjoy the same enterprise-level of security through adoption of the cloud at a far more palatable price-point.

“The thing to keep in mind is that Microsoft has far more investment allocated toward security compared to your average school,” Tigwell explains. “Under our terms in Azure Security, any data belonging to an individual or institution will remain theirs regardless of circumstance, and we keep stringent standards to ensure this continues to be the case. That allows us to offer schools and tertiary institutions the same level of security as we do for some of Australia’s largest enterprises, while maintaining a price tag that’s competitive for most of the education industry.

“What we at Microsoft Azure aim to do is to reduce dependence on existing server infrastructure, along with all the headaches associated with it. That way, every resource and focus within an educational institution can be effectively channeled towards creating the best learning experience for Australian students.”

Watch Mark Tigwell answer your questions about Microsoft Azure and how it can help alleviate the challenges of Australia’s schools on our YouTube channel.

Get started on Microsoft Azure, and learn how the Microsoft Imagine Academy and Microsoft Virtual Academy can help your students prepare for their future. Learn more about Microsoft Azure’s security policies here.

Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates.