Gibraltar Area Schools is a public school district in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. The district includes the Gibraltar Elementary School for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and the Gibraltar Secondary School for sixth through twelfth grade. The district has a total of 681 students taught by approximately 35 teachers. An additional 40 staff members provide administrative, maintenance and support services.

Gibraltar needed to upgrade eight on-campus servers that ran everything from student databases to the library management system. Gibraltar’s IT Director, Steve Minten, estimates that new equipment and 4 years of upkeep would have cost $44,000—a steep sum for a cash-strapped institution.

As a small public school district with declining enrollment, the district’s state funding is decreasing. As a result, the district finds itself continually turning to the voters to raise the revenue necessary to maintain its faculty and facilities. They opted to move to cloud computing to avoid the expense of replacing hardware.

“Because the cycle on the servers needs to be elastic with the declining enrollment,” Minten says, “we want to have the flexibility of moving on and off workloads. Our enrollment can flex up or down, so we didn’t want to commit to a physical infrastructure.”

“We looked into Amazon Web Services (AWS) to see what we could pack into an hourly rate,” Minten says. “AWS has more options to fit our needs than the competition. The others just didn’t have the same track record. So we chose AWS.”

Within 3 months of deciding to move to the AWS Cloud, Gibraltar created a virtual private network connection between Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) and the school computers using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). With this secure link in place, the district migrated its Destiny Library Manager, which handles the library check-out process. A DeskPRO help desk PHP application was then deployed using an Amazon Machine Image (AMI). Because the AMI was already preconfigured for PHP, this move was finalized in only 6 hours.

Gibraltar is currently on track to save 25 percent over the typical 5 year lifespan of an on-premises infrastructure. The district gained immediate energy savings by turning off several of the old servers. It is also reducing time to market and service costs by relying on Amazon Premium Support for assistance instead of contracting outside help. Taking a more traditional hardware-based approach would have taken three to four days. In contrast, the district had AWS running within 20 minutes, and fully configured and operational within six hours.

“To the best of our knowledge, we are the first public school in Wisconsin to make the switch from buying servers as hardware to hosting data in the cloud,” Minten says. “We’re saving 25 percent over the next 5 years—it’s had a huge impact on our district’s budget.”

With both of these systems in place, the district is now identifying additional workloads to transfer to AWS, including an email server, Windows Update Service, web filtering, print server, domain backup systems, file storage, security systems and Wi-Fi management.

The district is also planning to move its Skyward student management system to AWS. Because the majority of Wisconsin public school districts use Skyward, Minten wants to show other communities that cloud migration is both technically and financially viable.

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