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« What really matters | Main | Getting the most from your tech dollar 5: Free is good »

Getting the most from your tech dollar 6: Head to the cloud

Over the next few days, I'll be addressing some strategies school districts use to get the most from their technology dollars. See the full list hereAny budget stretching strategies you're willing to share?

6. Head to the cloud

Cloud computing relies on applications and file storage that reside on the Internet with minimal resources stored on the local computer's hard drive. Since both applications and one's files reside on a network rather than on a specific computer, a major advantage of cloud computing is that one can work on any project, anywhere regardless of the computer being used. 

But cost savings are also important. Unlike software that resides on computer hard drives, web-based applications that perform a wide-array of productivity tasks are often provided at no cost to the user. While not as comprehensive as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, these tools often have a surprisingly full feature set and are compatible with commercial programs. Here are a few of the dozens of online tools you might find useful.
A school district's computing costs can be lowered using inexpensive computers just to access the cloud. Netbooks are inexpensive, file storage is free, and basic applications are free. Just appearing are netbooks that run the Chrome operating system that require virtually no maintenance, lowering support costs. Money that would have been spent on student workstations in labs, big file servers, technicians' salaries and expensive software can now be used to pay for increased bandwidth, greater wireless coverage or, maybe, just maybe, lower class sizes.

At some point, I predict that K-12 schools will ask parents to provide basic computing devices for their children as a part of the school supply list. As a parent, I was asked to purchase a $100 graphing calculator for my son when he was in high school six years ago. How big a stretch is it to ask parents to provide a $250 netbook computer today?

Here is my estimate of our district's* savings by using Google Apps over the next five years:

  • No internal mailserver and mail back-up costs (hardware, software, maintenance).$12,000 (We were due for a replacement and running out of storage capacity)
  • No student/staff document file server costs (hardware, software, maintenance). $84,000 (28 servers and server OSs at $3000 each on a 5 year replacement.)
  • Less need to upgrade computer OS's since apps are browser-based. $150,000 ($50 upgrade x 3000 computers)
  • Less printing -paper, copiers, toner, printer salaries, etc. $400,000 (Reduction of 20% in photocopying/printing each year.)
  • Less need for commercial productivity tools like Office or iWork (do elementary kids really need these?) and the cost of upgrading to new versions. $100,000 ($50 x 2000 computers)
  • Ability to use lower powered computers (thin clients, netbooks) in more situations and a reduction in number of separate configurations needed for machines. $1,000,000 ($500 lower price of 2000 computers) Eventually resulting in...
  • Reduction in tech support costs. Or more properly stated, slower increase in the need for more tech support. $250,000 ($50,000 position eliminated)
  • Less tangible savings in time, portable storage/transport devices, mailing hard copy documents. Indirect savings to users.
  • More work out of staff members when they are able to conveniently work from home. (I am SUCH an administrator!) Priceless!
  • And greater access to tools for students, improving their educational experience. Priceless again!

These are rough and admittedly optimistic estimates, but I think you can see the general trend. Even if only 50% of my estimated nearly $2M in savings is realized, that averages out to close to $200,000 per year. (Out of a $1.2M budget.) I am not suggesting reducing tech budgets by this amount, but I can sure think of a lot more interesting things (e-book subscriptions, a more robust wireless network, and more bandwidth) to spend tech dollars on.

*7300 students, 800 professional staff, 3000 supported computers in use.

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Reader Comments (4)

Yes! I wish I could get our district on board with this. Although I prefer to use Picasa photo sharing at school since Flikr is blocked here.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Good luck, Ninja. Keep after them and remind them that over 10 million educational accounts are in use. Oh, Picasa is a part of GoogleApps for Education as well.


May 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Our networking staff is talking about beginning to build our own cloud. We've passed the point of going the Google Apps route, with an Outlook 2010 server purchase. We're getting NAS servers for all secondaries this summer, and they've told us we can set up Drop Box type accounts. I'll believe it when I see it, but at least we're making hardware decisions to head in that direction. I can't seem to get anyone on board with the vision of using Google Apps or Office Web Apps on a more widespread basis...just have to keep trying. I keep hearing about SharePoint possibly being part of the solution, but have yet to see it deliver.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Nathan,

A lot of the techie die-hards, esp those Microsoft brainwashed, er, trained don't like giving up control. The cloud will come to your district eventually in some form. Keep pushing.


June 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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