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. 


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. 


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.


  1. Good comments. Also good way to view as free, fee, internal and role of managing those

  2. Great questions to leave us with. As far as what district should run (own) is the one that I'd suggest we leave the most open to figure out later. You mentioned SumoPaint in your post, that is a outstanding example of a program that ever two years ago I couldn't have imagined that would be possible to be web-based after being a PhotoShop user for year.

    We can't yet imagine the possibilities of what will exist in the three clouds that you describe.

    The future is exciting!

  3. Just found an neat article about Cloud Computing at UBC...


  4. Hi James - your comment about leaving it open to figure out later - no choice there, way to hard to figure out now :-) Thanks for your posts and the UBC example, interesting ways to use the web keep popping up all over the place.

  5. I'm currently of the opinion that a large reason for the percieved need for this shift is a lack of understanding what a progressive IT group does on a day to day basis. Moving towards a core ITIL organization I strongly believe is key in not only communicating the services supplied, but more importantly making sure that those services really do get delivered along with appropriate metrics. Tripping over what exactly services are delivered is semantics. TD

  6. Its interesting the timing of your question about what services we might deliver in 5-10 years. We are currently in the process of selecting a replacement for FirstClass, and we have both Microsoft Live@EDU and Google Apps on the table. The goal is to move towards something either free, or inexpensive. The biggest issue I see around moving anything to the cloud is lack of control, and future difficulty moving back in house. If the transition was easy both ways this would be an easier decision for is.

    I also have concerns about privacy, ownership of data, and rights management to moving to the cloud. It does not mean that I (we) am not seriously considering it.

    What I've really been liking in the public education system is the flexibility we have in combining open source and commercial software to find the best solution for a problem. All our web servers are Linux. Our threat management software is linux, our firewalls are FreeBSD. But if we decide to keep our messaging in house, we are considering both Zimbra and MS Exchange. Both have similar hardware requirements, which is to say very light for 2000 users where simultaneous count never exceeds 200 and typical load is around 40.

    What I like here is that the educational discounts are so deep that we can pick up MS Exchange for under $200 with 3 years of Software assurance. We get our CALS as part of the MS ERAC bundle. When you compare to Zimbra, to stay within that same price range we end up with a community supported platform that does not have all the enterprise features of the closed source platform.

    It's an interesting argument.

    So what do I see coming? I see the cloud being a fad. My crystal ball predicts a bit of a shake up in confidence, and I think the google model might fail. Instead I see a hybrid approach of in-house open and closed source projects ruling the day to day desktop, and the cloud remaining to be niche tools (twitter, facebook, social networking in general) focusing on mobile toys. TD

  7. I'm very interested in your research on the privacy question around using Live@EDU and/or Google. I am considering moving Student email out to Microsoft for free as a starting point but haven't done the research yet on privacy.

  8. My concern today around privacy with any of the education hosted services is changes in terms of service. Google recently changed their TOS to include any publicly shared document in google apps would now be included in their indexed search results for the unwashed masses. Think about this one for a second.

    Lets say that I had just moved there. We are a small district, 2400 student, 190 teachers, another 300 staff. A teacher goes and uses google apps to make a small classroom related website and posts several documents there so students can access it online from any terminal. The documents were not indexed by the search engine (name, or contents) as this was desirable. Now the change in the TOS comes through. It comes with the other 80 emails that come per day to a generic adminstrator. The admin reads it, understands what it means, and sends an email out to all the teachers. The few teachers that actually understand this take steps to secure their documents, and start getting their students to sign in everytime they need access to something. No big deal.

    But, you get the some who don't understand what this means. The ones who cause trouble with their own ignorance. This simple change in privacy turns into a massive issue and a headache I don't want to deal with. It becomes a distraction from education, a distraction from the job, and a distraction to all our teachers who are now questioning the security of their stuff.

    One person is easy to reason with. An ignorant trouble maker can take a TOS change and run with it for months. That one ignorant user turns into an unruly mob in 60 seconds.

    This seems to happen frequently with hosted services (Google, Facebook, etc).

    I'm not sure that for someone delivering services if its worth the headache.

    Ironically the *exact* same thing could happen in house. But it wouldn't make the news, it wouldn't get the masses stirred up, and instead the action of notifying folks of the change with recommendations on what to do would be seen in a trustworthy light.

    Anyways, those are my 7am thoughts. TD

  9. I found this post: http://www.itbusinessedge.com/cm/blogs/cole/fully-clouded-by-2012/?cs=38781#cf that reflects my thinking here. It's a little more aggressive in the timeline "2012" but similar thinking.


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