Replace your server OR go cloud OR both?

Server and Cloud, side by side...

"What is my server used for?"  

Servers can be used for many different purposes. In Smart-Net's case, your server may encompasses many different roles including Filesharing for Mac's and PC's, Authentication services, Email services, Web based Intranet, DNS and DHCP services, Internet Filtering and Proxy server, Desktop Management tools, Daily Notices, Network Information database, Helpdesk database, Antivirus scanning, Firewall, integration with Google Apps for Education, PXE imaging server for cloning desktops and laptops, and centralised Printer Management and Remote Desktop access using the Smart-RAS addons product.

"Do I need to replace my server?"

Continued use of a server after its manufacturer’s warranty has expired is one of the greatest risks you can introduce to your network. Since a server “serves” all other computers on your network, if it is not operational, all users are affected. If parts fail, you have no guarantee replacement parts can be procured. In an ideal world you would budget to replace your server every 3 years which corresponds to the normal manufacturer's warranty period for a server. The reality for many school's however is very different, with the typical lifespan of a server being 5 years. In fact, I've just run some numbers which show 26% of Smart-Net school's servers are over 5 years old (that's almost 140 schools!). Server failure, sluggish server performance and ongoing maintenance costs are three obvious reasons you should replace your server, but with all this talk about "cloud computing", do you really need to worry about replacing your server? The short answer is "yes", and we'll explore this in more detail below.

"What's the cloud?" "Where is the cloud?" "Are we in the cloud now?!"

These are all questions you've probably heard or even asked yourself. The term "cloud computing" is everywhere. In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive or local server. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. 

Many schools are already using or investigating "cloud" based services alongside their Smart-Net server and this hybrid method we fully endorse as a progression towards a more integrated cloud computing environment. The reality for most schools going to the cloud, means that part of their server infrastructure is offloaded to a hosted service provider, and applications are accessed over the internet. This is a software distribution model commonly referred to as Software as a Service (or SaaS). Applications hosted in “the cloud” can be used for a wide range of tasks for schools. Google Apps for Education, Twitter and Facebook are all examples of SaaS, with users able to access these services via any internet enabled device. 

For schools, the benefits are obvious for moving some key services into the cloud, e.g. migrating email services to Google Apps for Education or moving to a web-based SMS solution. While using cloud services can lower some IT support costs and even reduce reliance on using your local server, there are many good reasons why it's still important for schools to still have a local server, regardless of whether it be Smart-Net, Windows Server or Mac OSX server.

Some examples of why it's important to keep your server are:

Backups: Google DO NOT provide any backup services for Google Apps for Education and there is no guarantee any data will be recoverable in the event of deletion. If school's are intending to use Google Docs for their day-to-day document management and storage, we highly recommend they keep copies of their documents on a local storage device as well (e.g. server plus backup solution). While there are 3rd party services available to backup an entire Google Apps domain, they are priced well out of reach of most schools.

Centralised Printing/Network Management: Printer management and automatic deployment is not possible without a local server. Installing software automatically, automating configuration and settings on computers or imaging machines requires a local server.

Internet Speed: Internet speed is one limiting factor that may prevent schools moving some services or even their server into the cloud. While Network 4 Learning will deliver a high speed fibre internet connection to all NZ school's, the majority of school's on N4L are capped at 50Mbps, compared to a 1000Mps connection you have when accessing files on your local server. Even if your server infrastructure was virtualised in the cloud, uploading and sharing large files (e.g. videos) would be time consuming.

Bring-Your-Own-Device: Solutions to manage BYOD (including virtual networks - VLANs) may be more difficult without a local server infrastructure in place.

DHCP Server: DHCP services are normally provided by a server and is what gives each computer on your network a unique address. Without a server, you have the added complexity of managing DHCP services on the endpoint device on your network instead (e.g. your internet router), which may also have less functionality.

Virtual Servers: Your server may be virtualised and hosted in the *cloud*, however there are currently no providers in NZ that can offer affordable solutions to NZ schools. Most schools budgeting to replace their server every 3-5 years would spend in the range of $3000-$5000. The best priced hosted server solution for NZ schools came in at $10000+ per year (based on an average size school we got pricing for a few months ago) and this was simply unaffordable.

School Software: There are a number of software applications and other vendor based solutions for schools that require a local server to run. Some examples are Musac Classic, Access-It Library, Ed-Alive, Steps, Koha, Security Survelliance systems, VOIP phone systems, PaperCut Printer Management plus many more.

When choosing to replace your server or move services into the cloud, please make sure you talk to your IT professionals first!

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