Center Moriches School District serves more than 1,600 students on central Long Island in New York. Like many of the state’s school districts, Center Moriches hosted its own finance and human resources (HR) software on-premises. This approach was inadequate in several ways.
First, although the system was backed up daily, it only met auditors’ minimum requirements for redundancy. “In the event of a system failure, data would have to be manually reloaded, and up to a full day’s work would have to be reconstructed,” says William Nofi, network and systems coordinator at the district. “Backups were stored in the same geographical area as the master file, leaving data vulnerable to larger-scale disasters.”
Second, the system provided no way for individuals to access the finance and HR application remotely—even when schools were closed due to bad weather. This meant that important tasks such as processing payroll were at risk of being delayed.
Finally, managing the application required IT staff time that could be better spent elsewhere. “Anytime a client has to manage a physical server, they have to patch it, make sure it’s backed up properly, and so on,” says Earley. “That’s time they might be able to invest in improving technology that has a direct impact on the student experience.”
When a new version of the software package was released, the district found itself at a crossroads. It could choose to continue hosting the application on a virtual machine running on a physical server in the district’s own offices—or it could move to the cloud.
The cloud option was first presented to the Center Moriches IT staff at an event promoting the new version of the district’s finance and HR software. “SchoolSource demonstrated how they could set up the AWS services for us and painlessly migrate our data, and how this configuration would provide built-in backup, failover, and high availability,” says Nofi.
Earley says that the clear benefits of AWS make it an easy choice for school districts. “AWS is the cloud industry leader,” says Earley. “Our school district customers appreciate that they can use their existing Microsoft and Oracle licenses and don’t have to replace their entire technology stack.”
SchoolSource used AWS to create a hybrid solution that connects to the district’s on-premises Active Directory identity server using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). The solution runs on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for SQL Server, configured to replicate across multiple Availability Zones for redundancy. Data in Amazon RDS is encrypted using AWS Key Management Service (KMS). SchoolSource also used Amazon WorkSpaces, which provides a fully managed, highly secure desktop as a service that enables remote access to the finance and HR application, as well as existing file shares and network printing—all with single sign-on access.
The migration was accomplished quickly, with no downtime. “It was really hands-off for me, which I appreciated, especially since the migration took place during the start of the school year, which is always our busiest time,” recalls Nofi. “The whole thing took only six weeks.”
Using AWS significantly improved availability. “After the solution was deployed, a failed update caused the database to go down,” recalls Earley. “With the near-real-time backup capabilities of AWS combined with transaction-level logging, we were able to do a point-in-time restore. Only five minutes of work was lost. They were back in business without a hitch.”
Earley also notes that restoring after such an incident is much easier in the cloud. “With an on-premises application server, if an incident happens, you don’t have a place to restore the data to until the server is fixed,” he notes. “With AWS, you can spin up another instance in seconds.”
The district now has less hardware to purchase, deploy, and manage. “Using AWS and SchoolSource means we have one less server to worry about,” mentions Nofi. “Patching and backups are taken care of, which frees up our resources.”
With Amazon WorkSpaces, employees can now access the application remotely and securely. “With Amazon WorkSpaces, employees use a virtual desktop, so there’s no data transfer between the host and the application running on AWS,” Earley points out. “From a security standpoint, it’s just pixels on a screen; the data is fully encrypted. The user can’t plug in a flash drive and download the data—it never leaves the district’s control.”
The solution has also improved the overall security of the finance and HR solution. “Security on AWS is a non-issue,” says Nofi. “It’s more likely that a hacker would successfully penetrate an on-premises system than one hosted on AWS, which is a mature solution with in-depth security that would be difficult to deploy on our own.”
The success of the SchoolSource solution on AWS has led the district to consider the cloud a viable solution for more of its IT systems going forward, including the district website server and offsite backups. “With AWS, resiliency and redundancy are built in,” Nofi concludes. “SchoolSource has opened the door to using the cloud for more of our IT needs.”
In a world of shrinking budgets and expanding expectations, today’s public school districts need to use technology effectively to maximize learning, improve operations, and increase efficiency. SchoolSource Technologies, a consulting partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN) helps drive innovation in education in New York State. It assists state and local entities, including school districts, in implementing the latest technology to improve existing systems and enable new approaches.
The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud is central to this mission. “Using AWS, we can offer clients new levels of resiliency, scalability, and productivity, simplifying IT while improving access to important data and applications,” reports Jon Earley, managing director of cloud services at SchoolSource Technologies.
Learn more about AWS cloud computing for education.