Behind the scenes, technology solutions can keep schools and universities running smoothly, but you’d never know it, unless you talked to guys like Mike Maxwell. As National Director of State, Local and Education (SLED), Mike leads Symantec’s efforts to develop and support information protection solutions for government and education initiatives. At this billion-dollar Mountain View-based company founded in 1982 and now operating in more than 40 countries, he manages and works very closely with all aspects of their internal SLED team—sales, marketing, engineering and partnering with integrators. Here’s what Mike has to say about issues facing schools and universities, and what he is doing to address the real challenges these institutions face.
Victor: Hi Mike! What are you up to?
Mike: At Symantec we’re working with both higher education and K-12 to address these key trends:
- Security and privacy protection —the data explosion of the past few years that requires making sure sensitive data, from student information to propriety research, is protected, and authentication and identity access points are set in place.
- Enablement of e-learning—the shift from paper textbooks and brick-and-mortar classrooms to online systems, content, and processes, and the management and security of those systems.
- Information Technology (IT) Consolidation—particularly for educational institutions affected by state budget cuts, the adoption of new data management models and the new information protection strategies that must accompany them.
Victor: Your characterization of the state of IT in education these days?
Mike: There are many challenges to modernizing education IT and keeping pace with new technologies. The movement to e-learning is coming at a time when many learning institutions are struggling with tight budgets and inefficient infrastructures. As a result, data center consolidation, virtualized servers, public and private clouds, and more efficient backup technologies are replacing the infrastructures that existed just a few years ago. In turn, data and access security must evolve and special consideration given to meeting privacy and access requirements.
Victor: Are solutions readily available? Which are most commonly used?
Mike: Symantec products that support these key trends are widely available (information about our complete suite of solutions and products can be viewed on our education page). We work very closely with our customers to identify their needs in order to determine which products will help them achieve their end goal. The most common Symantec products we see used in education include Backup Exec, Endpoint Protection and Workspace Virtualization.
Victor: Got examples of these in action?
Mike: We’ve worked with several education institutions to help them deploy Symantec solutions that address security and protection needs and enable virtual environments.
For example, Rice University is deploying Symantec Endpoint Virtualization Suite to stream applications to 500 desktop PCs in student labs. The university expects the solution to solve problems with last-minute requests for new applications and divergent versions of existing applications used by different departments on campus—without impacting the university’s base image.
In another case, the University of North Florida used Symantec Endpoint Protection and Altiris Client Management Suite to consolidate its systems management processes under one console and has virtually eliminated malware in its environment. In this situation, tasks for client workstations formerly handled by several system management applications are now executed under a single integrated product and they save hundreds of hours on campus-wide software upgrades.
Victor: Symantec often talks about an “information-centric” environment. What’s this really mean?
Mike: When we talk about “information-centric” what it really means is that today’s enterprises need to be able to identify which data is most sensitive (e.g., academic records), and which added protections should apply. Being “information-aware” allows you to prioritize the information that needs protection and implement security best practices.
Mike: With concerns about American educational achievement and the high costs of running our schools and colleges, I believe that the effective use of technology can provide the right answer. Learning institutions have discovered the benefits of e-learning environments. They are looking to this solution to save money and provide a more consistent learning environment across their entire user base.
As students bring an ever-growing array of devices on which to display content, virtualizing delivery of applications becomes quite attractive. Specifically, virtualization allows schools to use older equipment without costly software and hardware refreshes. Student-owned devices can connect with only minimal intervention by IT staff. All users get a consistent image regardless of device and that device’s software. Information is saved in the cloud so it is not lost should the device be stolen or misplaced.
Victor: From your perspective, what are the benefits of online learning for schools?
Mike: Education is rapidly adapting to a digital environment. Really, it is the students who are driving this change. Virtual schools—for both K-12 and higher education—are becoming ubiquitous. Courses are increasingly offered online and blended (a mix of classroom and online learning) so that access “anytime, anywhere” is the norm.
One of the key benefits of e-learning is that teachers and faculty have the flexibility to conduct their classes with increased accessibility and minimal disruption to the learning process. This is important as we see more students adopt devices and technologies that they use on-the-go for remote access to educational resources. Another benefit is that schools can build their student population without the costs of building more brick and mortar locations.
With this as a backdrop, it is important that in an e-learning environment digital resources, student records, research and faculty files can be accessed by only those who need them, but are also protected from theft, damage and loss. Symantec is unique in that we cover all aspects of protecting an e-learning environment—authentication, security and backup.
Victor: What are some ways to assess the impact of data center consolidation efforts in education?
Mike: Overall, consolidation efforts should yield a reduction in costs and improvement in IT services. What you don’t want to encounter is the service level quality declining with consolidation and optimization efforts.
Even in environments with virtualization efforts in place, we still find room for server virtualization improvement. Symantec works with customers with highly virtualized server environments to operate even more efficiently by improved clustering of physical and virtual servers. This enables the customers to run the most mission-critical applications in virtual environments.
Cost savings on physical storage is low-hanging fruit for most education IT shops. Typically, we see storage utilization rates around 25 percent; with industry best practices we can improve that to about 70 percent. I tell customers if you haven’t paid attention to increased efficiencies and utilization, eliminate any future purchase needs for 12 months so that you can assess optimization. Once you do that, the need to buy additional storage over time is drastically reduced.
Victor: It’s a hot area: how can schools implement cloud solutions that meet their needs?
Mike: Overall, we look at the cloud as a very positive trend for education institutions. The cost savings associated with the administration of cloud-based systems are fantastic for education institutions. They do need to recognize that most cloud vendors tend not to have a ton of expertise in security and privacy protection or in meeting legal e-discovery regulatory requirements associated with cloud-based email. So those issues need to be addressed in concert with the cloud adoption.
If I had to pinpoint the most important consideration for those looking to adopt a cloud platform, I would say it is security. This is where IT administrators need to be very vigilant. Because it’s easy to think that since your data is up in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about security issues anymore. But really, you probably have to worry about them more because now your mail is off in an environment that you don’t own or manage anymore. So it’s an area that we encourage our customers to be even more vigilant about—things like authentication and access issues—because those aren’t necessarily going to be dealt with by cloud vendors with the absolute best solutions and technologies.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Symantec solutions?
Mike: As a leader in security, Symantec protects over 120 million endpoints in IT and assesses the most online traffic. We can identify and track more threats and potential issues in unique ways and because we are armed with this information, we can understand the specific concerns and challenges for education.
An area where we see a great opportunity to leverage Symantec solutions is mobility.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Mike: The increasing demand for secure mobile applications creates a real challenge for IT departments to protect student and faculty data as it’s transferred from device to device. Symantec is a leader in mobile solutions that truly speak to the balance of meeting consumer needs and ensuring proper security protections.
Victor: What’s your outlook on the future of education IT?
Mike: My daughter is a junior in high school and I am personally very interested in innovative and accessible education tools. She is a student athlete with an intense training schedule that often takes her out of the classroom, so she accesses virtual classrooms and online tools to keep up with her schoolwork. From my perspective, I want her to have the best distance learning tools possible and ones that provide a rich, valuable classroom experience when she is not physically able to be in school. In the future, we will likely see virtual classrooms with amazingly robust platforms that enable engaging curriculum and a sense of community for students in remote locations.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com