From education to employment

Putting the Edge into Education

Education institutions across the board from primary schools to universities, are confronted with various difficulties in supporting their students with enlightening technological learning experiences.

With this in mind, how can all types of education institutions make the most of the latest technology while keeping the underpinning IT infrastructure simple and cost effective?

With the constant advancements in modern technology, it has merely become a bare necessity for students of all ages, to be able to study or gain the indispensable skills they now require to face today’s competitive digital focused job market.

Some schools in the UK and across the world, have even gained “Apple Distinguished Schools” status, which allows for school leaders and teachers to support their school’s technological vision and learning goals through the use of iPads and Mac products to help enrich learning. This could mean for example, students are able to access and do homework at home on their iPad or even revisit a presentation their teacher presented earlier in the week.

While trying to provide the best tools for students, educational institutions are constantly facing the pressure to make cuts wherever possible, and reduced IT budgets are not uncommon. Even though schools and higher education institutions are putting in place more connected ways of learning such as online platforms like Moodle and Blackboard, it can inevitably lead onto complicated, expensive and time consuming IT challenges.

Embracing a technological culture

Around a decade ago in schools, using the latest technology would have meant making simple changes from a chalkboard to an interactive whiteboard. Nowadays however, it’s normal to find children, who are now more naturally connected to technology, learning the fundamentals of computer coding in primary schools, By being exposed to technology at such a young age, the current generation is more at ease using the latest gadgets and smart devices. This technological culture change is pushing schools to integrate these smart technologies into learning activities as students are used to instant access to information through personal devices like phones and tablets. Due to this, there’s now a shift towards presenting school and university assignments online via student platforms with the data being stored in the cloud.

Despite being labelled as a school or a sixth form, when it comes to IT, they still have the same requirements as that of a business, if not more. Education institutions are implementing common office applications, messaging services, virtual desktops, hosting web services for students and parents, and supporting more specialised educational applications. All of these applications however require a robust and sophisticated infrastructure to support them. On an already stretched IT budget and limited onsite expertise, it can be a challenge to find the right solution.

Keeping it simple

Schools create vast amounts of data across various departments and sites, so it’s important to have a centralised storage hub that can accommodate the data management and access demands. This is especially so in the case of educational institutions like academies or trust schools, that operate similarly to remote location and branch office (ROBO) based businesses. Just like a ROBO the schools require a simple, low cost, localised computing solution to address their IT requirements, that is also able to connect to a centralised hub. To address these challenges education bodies are turning to edge computing.

Education at the edge

Edge computing offers localised compute resources away from the primary data centre where performance and reliability are fundamental. This is the best solution for institutions seeking a cost-effective solution that offers the agility to operate efficiently and effectively away from the main site.

Many schools operate within a trust that is responsible for multiple sites. This means connectivity and networking are often pivotal to its operations and can be an important factor when considering a new IT environment. Edge computing, due to its on-site architecture, means the school is able to access data at anytime without the need to rely on a strong internet connection. Schools can also benefit from data resilience and protection with business continuity as it is easy to access and replicate data to a secondary site or to the cloud. This means schools are still able to function, even if there is limited connectivity or data loss.

Simple to deploy and maintain, edge computing automates a lot of the back-end management meaning IT teams don’t have to spend time on day-to-day management responsibilities, and can instead rechannel this time into more value-adding activities.

Future-proofing with scalability

Simplifying IT infrastructure is only one part of the equation. Making sure schools are still able to scale their environments can help them to plan for the future while keeping costs down. IT costs are not always transparent and may appear low in the first instance, however when additional services are added, increased capacity is required or there is a need for additional support and licenses, the costs can quickly escalate. Unlike private companies, educational institutions have to plan their budgets ahead of time and depend on government allocation. However their budgets can be difficult to predict, seeing as the amount of data generated can increase each day. The fact that edge computing architecture is easily scalable with more capacity added as and when needed, removes the need to over plan storage, therefore future proofing and supporting the school’s long-term needs.

Advances in modern technologies mean all types of educational institutions can benefit from solutions that remove cost and complexity without compromising on performance and agility. By investing in an edge computing system, schools can have their IT environments supported and managed by anyone with an IT background, as the low- maintenance system doesn’t require special technical qualifications or knowhow. For educational institutions, edge computing infrastructure can help them reduce IT costs with minimal management and help to redirect money and resources where they matter most – enriching student’s educational experiences.

Johan Pellicaan, MD and VP EMEA at Scale Computing

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