Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Future of IT Services – Part 2

I left off Part 1 of this series with a promise to talk about what I believe a School District’s approach to creating and supporting IT infrastructure should be and specifically servers, cloud computing, and online services.

So, where to begin.  IT groups create and support wired and wireless networks – access, security, and bandwidth are key!  IT provides servers to support a smorgasbord of services including file sharing, printer sharing, web sites, portals, library systems, student info systems, financial systems, database systems, phone / unified messaging systems, e-mail / calendar / contact management systems, and the list goes on.  There is a ton of work for a large number of technical folk involved in purchasing, installing, securing, maintaining, and changing this infrastructure.

In recent years, a lot of free and for fee services have arose on the web from Google, Microsoft, Flickr, and 100’s of others whereby an organization can use enterprise class free services.  The University of Alberta is finalizing contracts and implementation plans (read more here) to centralize their e-mail and calendar services on free Google Mail (gmail).  I say wow!  Many organizations use Google Docs, Box.NET (or other drop file/share sites), and a host of other free services. 

CloudComputing

Others are using for fee services like Microsoft’s Software + Service (Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online, Office Communications Online, CRM Online, etc.).  In British Columbia School Districts have move their student info systems to a for fee service called BCeSIS.

Shift forward 5 years, 10 years…  what will it look like.  I think it will be rather cloudy out…   My take on cloud computing is that it is really an old idea resurrected.  I “grew up” in computing during the early 80’s when time shared computing (centralized and often at a distance “servers”) with simple terminals (a screen and keyboard) were the norm.  Personal computers were rare, big, slow, and stand-alone devices back then.  Fast forward to today…  cloud computing is really a new form of time shared computing.  With the rise of netbooks and the cost approaching zero and the richness of the user experience in the cloud approaching that of a computer, the storms are inevitable. 

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I believe there will be three fundamental clouds: (1) free, (2) for fee, and (3) ours.  The real question facing School District IT shops is what belongs where and why.  I think the key criteria for deciding what is our cloud will include need for privacy of data, flexibility to customize, ease of integration between services and apps, single sign-on capabilities (one id and password gets you into all services), automation of profile / account management, etc.

By the way, check-out this cloud service – Sumo Paint – it is amazing and totally free – runs in a browser as a flash application.  Feels and works like a professional expensive client computer application.  Or how about Webspiration (cloud app) vs. Inspiration (client app).

In my previous post in this series I posed questions about what will IT services groups do when the field work supporting the client devices mostly disappears.  Well, I believe over time a good number of field IT staff need to retrain and become service providers supporting our cloud and helping manage access to free and for fee cloud services.  Additionally, I believe our work in schools will shift from high touch maintaining computers to, as Dave Truss in his comment said, to tech helpers with an educator mindset.  I believe our service response times will need to become nearly instantaneous as well – that will be the expectation of teachers, administrators, and students.

So, my questions for you are:

  • What forecast would you give for how School District IT services might look in 5 or 10 years?
  • What services are you currently running “in the cloud” for free or for a fee and why?
  • What services are you planning to run in a free or for fee cloud, why, and over what time line?
  • What services do you believe School Districts should run in their own cloud and why?

Not sure if there’ll be a Part 3 in this series or not…  Hope to hear from you.