There are significant cost and management benefits for schools and districts to move some of their functions to cloud-based software. However, there are real concerns as well – particularly in the area of data security. Benefits include reduced onsite infrastructure and maintenance, decreased management costs, and affordable software to manage devices, learning management systems, and integrated communication services.
It was reported earlier this year that more than 40% of K-12 schools have adopted cloud-based solutions as part of their technology infrastructure. Schools needing to build out an aging IT infrastructure find that cloud-based services are an affordable way to achieve their IT goals. For instance, cloud storage allows access to files from any computer or mobile device – even if those devices are shared. And, while most cloud proponents believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, there are risks.
Primary concerns about cloud-based storage include protecting the privacy of student data and protecting data about any or all of the users. Parents are concerned about the possibility that cloud-based data will move out of the control of local school districts and into the hands of nongovernmental agencies. And, it is true that if the data is housed in a public cloud, it could share the cloud with multiple tenants. This puts the data at risk of being lost, stolen, or damaged.
There is also a general air of distrust that when data is no longer stored in a physical place that it is in danger of being leaked or used for alternate purposes. Schools and districts understand the importance of protecting student-identifiable data. Third parties, whether a site-based or cloud-based partner can be held to privacy regulations through regular contracts. It is also possible to ensure that cloud infrastructure is designed to protect student and user information. The technology literally changes and improves on a daily basis so many districts are finding ways to take advantage of significant cost savings while also protecting their student data.
Another concern about using cloud-based storage and software is Internet stability. If the school or district Internet goes down, all files and programs are inaccessible. More schools in the U.S. have inadequate bandwidth than have sufficient bandwidth. The quality and density of the Internet can also be supported by cloud-based services in an entirely wireless environment or a combination wired and wireless environment.
It is possible that the schools and districts with the smallest IT budgets may be the ones that will move ahead the most quickly to adopt cloud-based systems. The primary reason is economic. The cloud is more affordable, allows the integration of multiple data systems, and requires less onsite maintenance and fewer IT personnel.
In the era of “big data” there is genuine concern about protecting students, and these fears should not be minimized. However, there are many cloud-based options to choose from, and as schools evaluate their IT options, it is imperative that they weigh the risks and benefits themselves for their individual communities.