Out of the Server Room, Into the Classroom

The new normal for school IT administrators.

GUEST COLUMN | by Joel Dolisy

CREDIT SolarWindsClassrooms have graduated from traditional to technology. In place of a blackboard, there’s an interactive smart board. Instead of clunky computers, there are sleek tablets. At this point it wouldn’t be surprising if the teacher’s apple – the fruit, not the computer – had a Wi-Fi connection.

All of this technology is application driven. Applications facilitate learning processes by allowing faculty to share information with students both in and outside the classroom. They open up worlds of opportunities for students seeking knowledge. They make it possible for office administrators to process records, invoices, and more.

It’s a challenge for school IT administrators to keep applications running smoothly so that everything else works well. This is difficult, especially when applications are running on congested networks handling a lot of interaction and activity, which can lead to slowness or, worse, unresponsiveness.

This is compounded by the need to manage a complex application stack, or “app stack.” This is a term used to describe all of the various components and moving parts that make up a modern app infrastructure, from a foundational storage array to a virtualization layer, up through the server that hosts an application, to the application itself. In such a structure, if one component fails or becomes slow, it can cause others to do the same, creating significant problems that can often be difficult to identify or diagnose.

There’s also the fact that many school IT infrastructures are like a moving target: highly dynamic and ever changing. An organizational layout from last year — let alone two or three years ago — may have changed significantly, and everything might appear very different today.

Considering all of this, no one would blame technology professionals if they started throwing some of their old IT textbooks at the wall. Before they do, however, they should open them to the page that talks about the opportunities that today’s app-centric world present to them. Because as the importance of applications has grown, so has the power and ability of IT managers to influence the way schools manage technology and deliver unique educational experiences.

IT’s job is no longer just about making sure that students and faculty have upgraded from Windows XP. Today’s school IT professionals are among the few people with the knowledge necessary to manage the complexities of an app-driven environment. As such, they’re positioned to have significant impact on virtually every aspect of their schools, influencing not just technology, but education itself.

They can continue along this path by adopting three methodologies:

Buying for performance – not just price. IT administrators now have the authorization and ability to buy computer power with the click of a mouse. When doing so, however, they must think beyond choosing the most cost-effective solutions, and focus primarily on those that will provide the best performance. Of course, everyone needs to be concerned about budget. But shortchanging the school could lead to applications and performance issues that simply are not worth it.

Keeping things as simple as possible. External partners are great, but managing them can add to the complexity IT already must deal with everyday, not to mention lead to an increase in the time it takes to troubleshoot issues. Therefore, it’s a good idea for IT professionals to consolidate as much of the application infrastructure as possible under their own internal management.

Taking a holistic view of the whole stack. IT administrators should also take a holistic view of their app stack by considering the stack as a single entity, rather than separate infrastructure components. This will provide a better perspective on how the stack is operating as a whole. They’ll still need to monitor the application layer and analyze performance, though, in order to pinpoint problems when they arise and prevent potential issues. This can easily be done using performance monitoring software, which can point out memory leaks, service failures, and other potential issues that an IT pro can address before they adversely impact the educational process.

IT professionals have probably heard the term “master of my domain.” For them, that used to mean the server room. Thanks to the importance of applications in school IT, however, their domain has gotten much larger. They’re now in their school’s offices, libraries, and classrooms – and that’s a really good place to be.

Joel Dolisy is the CIO and CTO at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas.

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