In an era when ransomware and cybersecurity attacks on K-12 schools have nearly quadrupled, backups are critical. Today, advances in cloud backup technology like immutability and Object Lock allow school districts to take advantage of the benefits of cloud infrastructure while easing security concerns about sensitive data.
School districts have increasingly adopted cloud-based software as a service applications like video conferencing, collaboration, and learning management solutions, but many continue to operate with legacy on-premises solutions for backup and disaster recovery. If your district is ready to move your backup and recovery infrastructure to the cloud, how do you choose the right cloud partners and protect your school district’s data?
This post explains the benefits school districts can realize from moving infrastructure to the cloud, considerations to evaluate when choosing a cloud provider, and steps for preparing for a cloud migration at your district.
The Benefits of Moving to the Cloud for School Districts
Replacing legacy on-premises tape backup systems or expensive infrastructure results in a number of benefits for school districts, including:
- Reduced Capital Expenditure (CapEx): Avoid major investments in new infrastructure.
- Budget Predictability: Easily plan for predictable, recurring monthly expenses.
- Cost Savings: Pay as you go rather than paying for unused infrastructure.
- Elasticity: Scale up or down as seasonal demand fluctuates.
- Workload Efficiencies: Refocus IT staff on other priorities rather than managing hardware.
- Centralized Backup Management: Manage your backups in a one-stop shop.
- Ransomware Protection: Stay one step ahead of hackers with data immutability.
Reduced CapEx. On-premises infrastructure can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and that infrastructure will need to be replaced or upgraded at some point. Rather than recurring CapEx, the cloud shifts IT budgets to a predictable, monthly operating expenses (OpEx) model. You no longer have to compete with other departments for a share of the capital projects budget to upgrade or replace expensive equipment.
John Devlin, CIO of Kings County, was facing an $80,000 bill to replace all of the physical tapes they used for backups as well as an out-of-warranty tape drive all at once. He was able to avoid the bill by moving backup infrastructure to the cloud.
Costs are down, budgets are predictable, and the move freed up his staff to focus on bigger priorities. He noted, “Now the staff is helping customers instead of playing with tapes.”
Budget Predictability. With cloud storage, if you can accurately anticipate data usage, you can easily forecast your cloud storage budget. Since equipment is managed by the cloud provider, you won’t face a surprise bill when something breaks.
Cost Savings. Even when on-premises infrastructure sits idle, you still pay for its maintenance, upkeep, and power usage. With pay-as-you-go pricing, you only pay for the cloud storage you use rather than paying up front for infrastructure and equipment you may or may not end up needing.
Elasticity. Avoid potentially over-buying on-premises equipment since the cloud provides the ability to scale up or down on demand. If you create less data when school is out of session, you’re not paying for empty storage servers to sit there and draw down power.
Workload Efficiencies. Rather than provisioning and maintaining on-premises hardware or managing a legacy tape backup system, moving infrastructure to the cloud frees up IT staff to focus on bigger priorities. All of the equipment is managed by the cloud provider.
Centralized Backup Management. Managing backups in-house across multiple campuses and systems for staff, faculty, and students can quickly become a huge burden, so many school districts opt for a backup software solution that’s integrated with cloud storage. The integration allows them to easily tier backups to object storage in the cloud. Veeam is one of the most common providers of backup and replication solutions. They provide a one-stop shop for managing backups—including reporting, monitoring, and capacity planning—freeing up district IT staff from hours of manual intervention.
Ransomware Protection. With schools being targeted more than ever, the ransomware protection provided by some public clouds couldn’t be more important. Tools like Object Lock allow you to recreate the “air gap” protection that tape provides, but it’s all in the cloud. With Object Lock enabled, no one can modify, delete, encrypt, or tamper with data for a specific amount of time. Any attempts by a hacker to compromise backups will fail in that time. Object Lock works with offerings like immutability from Veeam so schools can better protect backups from ransomware.
Keep in mind, solutions like Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox, and Google Drive, while enabling collaboration for remote learning, are not the same as a true backup. Sync services allow multiple users across multiple devices to access the same file—which is great for remote learning, but if someone accidentally deletes a file from a sync service, it’s gone. Backup stores a copy of those files somewhere remote from your work environment, oftentimes in an off-site server—like cloud storage. It’s important to know that a “sync” is not a backup, but they can work well together when properly coordinated. You can read more about the differences here.
Considerations for Choosing a Cloud Provider for Your District
Moving to the cloud to manage backups or replace on-premises infrastructure can provide significant benefits for K-12 school districts, but administrators should carefully consider different providers before selecting one to trust with their data. Consider the following factors in an evaluation of any cloud provider:
- Security: What are the provider’s ransomware protection capabilities? Does the provider include features like Object Lock to make data immutable? Only a few providers offer Object Lock, but it should be a requirement on any school district’s cloud checklist considering the rising threat of ransomware attacks on school districts. During 2020, the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center cataloged 408 publicly-disclosed school incidents versus 122 in 2018.
- Compliance: Districts are subject to local, state, and federal laws including HIPAA, so it’s important to ensure a cloud storage provider will be able to comply with all pertinent rules and regulations. Can you easily set lifecycle rules to retain data for specific retention periods to comply with regulatory requirements? How does the provider handle encryption keys, and will that method meet regulations?
- Ease of Use: Moving to the cloud means many staff who once kept all of your on-premises infrastructure up and running will instead be managing and provisioning infrastructure in the cloud. Will your IT team face a steep learning curve in implementing a new storage cloud? Test out the system to evaluate ease of use.
- Pricing Transparency: With varying data retention requirements, transparent pricing tiers will help you budget more easily. Understand how the provider prices their service including fees for things like egress, required minimums, and other fine print. And seek backup providers that offer pricing sensitive to educational institutions’ needs. Veeam, for example, offers discounted public sector pricing allowing districts to achieve enterprise-level backup that fits within their budgets.
- Integrations/Partner Network: One of the risks of moving to the cloud is vendor lock-in. Avoid getting stuck in one cloud ecosystem by researching the providers’ partner network and integrations. Does the provider already work with software you have in place? Will it be easy to change vendors should you need to?
- Support: Does your team need access to support services? Understand if your provider offers support and if that support structure will fit your team’s needs.
As you research and evaluate potential cloud providers, create a checklist of the considerations that apply to you and make sure to clearly understand how the provider meets each requirement.
Preparing for a Cloud Migration at Your School District
Even when you know a cloud migration will benefit your district, moving your precious data from one place to another can be daunting at the least. Even figuring out how much data you have can be a challenge, let alone trying to shift a culture that’s accustomed to having hardware on-premises. Having a solid migration plan helps to ensure a successful transition. Before you move your infrastructure to the cloud, take the time to consider the following:
- Conduct a thorough data inventory: Make a list of all applications with metadata including the size of the data sets, where they’re located, and any existing security protocols. Are there any data sets that can’t be moved? Will the data need to be moved in phases to avoid disruption? Understanding what and how much data you have to move will help you determine the best approach.
- Consider a hybrid approach: Many school districts have already invested in on-premises systems, but still want to modernize their infrastructure. Implementing a hybrid model with some data on-premises and some in the cloud allows districts to take advantage of modern cloud infrastructure without totally abandoning systems they’ve customized and integrated.
- Test a proof of concept with your new provider: Migrate a portion of your data while continuing to run legacy systems and test to compare latency, interoperability, and performance.
- Plan for the transfer: Armed with your data inventory, work with your new provider to plan the transfer and determine how you’ll move the data. Does the provider have data transfer partners or offer a data migration service above a certain threshold? Make sure you take advantage of any offers to manage data transfer costs.
- Execute the migration and verify results: Schedule the migration, configure your transfer solution appropriately, and run checks to ensure the data migration was successful.
Like a K-12 school district, Coast Community College District (CCCD) manages data for multiple schools and 60,000+ students. With a legacy on-premises tape backup system, data recovery often took days and all too often failed at that. Meanwhile, staff had to chauffeur tapes from campus to campus for off-site backup data protection. They needed a safer, more reliable solution and wanted to replace tapes with cloud storage.
CCCD implemented Cohesity backup solutions to serve as a NAS device, which will eventually replace 30+ Windows file servers, and eliminated tapes with Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, safeguarding off-site backups by moving the data farther away. Now, restoring data takes seconds instead of days, and staff no longer physically transfer tapes—it all happens in the cloud.
Read more about CCCD’s tape-to-cloud move.
How Cloud Storage Can Protect School District Data
Cloud-based solutions are integral to successful remote or hybrid learning environments. School districts have already made huge progress in moving to the cloud to enable remote learning. Now, they have the opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of cloud storage to modernize infrastructure as ransomware attacks become all the more prevalent. To summarize, here are a few things to remember when considering a cloud storage solution:
- Using cloud storage with Object Lock to store an off-site backup of your data means hackers can’t encrypt, modify, or delete backups within a set timeframe, and schools can more easily restore backups in the event of a disaster or ransomware attack.
- Increased ransomware protections allow districts to access the benefits of moving to the cloud like reduced CapEx, workflow efficiencies, and cost savings without sacrificing the security of air gapped backups.
- Evaluate a provider’s security offerings, compliance capability, ease of use, pricing tiers, partner network, and support structure before committing to a cloud migration.
- Take the time to plan your migration to ensure a successful transition.
Have more questions about cloud storage or how to implement cloud backups in your environment? Let us know in the comments. Ready to get started?