Illinois school district takes first step towards complete backup solution in Google Cloud

When one of their Windows domain servers showed signs of age, the IT department in Illinois Community High School District 99 (CSD 99) had a choice to make. As Colleen Davoren, the district’s Network Infrastructure Manager, put it: “do we buy another physical server or take this opportunity to get one up in the cloud?” Rod Russeau, Director of Technology and Information Services for the district, points out that “these days data need to be constantly up and available. They need to be secure and redundant. More and more that’s on the cloud. A lot of our core applications already run up in the cloud—but we hadn’t looked at moving our infrastructure up there yet. This was an exercise for us to test the water of moving our infrastructure to GCP.” Davoren adds that “it felt like an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.”

“These days data need to be constantly up and available. They need to be secure and redundant. More and more that’s on the cloud. A lot of our core applications already run up in the cloud—but we hadn’t looked at moving our infrastructure up there yet. This was an exercise for us to test the water of moving our infrastructure to GCP.”

Rod Russeau, Director of Technology and Information Services, Community High School District 99, Illinois

Seeking an easy-to-manage cloud solution

At first, Russeau wasn’t sure there were cloud-based solutions out there for small school districts with limited funds and busy staff members. His department had no time for a major infrastructure overhaul or an expensive custom solution. But the district already had a longstanding relationship with Google and Amplified IT, a Google for Education partner that has provided technical consulting services to districts like theirs for over eight years. With the help of Keegan Morrison, Amplified IT’s Chief Cloud Architect, CSD 99 started by rolling out a pilot project to migrate some of their data services to Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Davoren notes that “we were familiar with Google in general and with Amplified support so that made it an easy transition for us.”

Even savvy IT administrators may be intimidated by the prospect of transforming their infrastructure, but together CSD 99, Google for Education, and Amplified IT came up with a gradual plan to ease them into the change and generate some quick, easy wins. Morrison explains that “at Amplified IT, we want to teach people how to fish, instead of fishing for them. With some demos and guidance, schools can see just how easy cloud computing can be. This specific project allowed the CSD 99 team to get familiar with the GCP console so that as they approach projects in the future, they have a better understanding of how to navigate GCP.”

Using Google Cloud Platform for backup

To this end, Morrison and CDWG engineer Steven Pompy set them up with their own secure VPN tunnel network connection to sync their services and data to GCP. Soon CSD 99 had a new hosted Active Directory and Print Server on GCP and a new back up plan: if all their sites went down, they could authenticate the data through GCP, ensuring that all five thousand students in the district would maintain access to critical resources.

Russeau’s team reports that the transition was seamless. Network Systems Administrator Anthony Dotts says, “from a day-to-day perspective it’s about the same as with on prem. It’s as if the server was right here. We’re just about to complete a full school year without any true issues. No complaints.” And now that they’ve got these first steps under their belt they can build on this progress whenever they want to take the next steps toward what Russeau calls “truly offsite storage of our backups so we’d be able to configure them, spin them up, test them, get them set to go, and then turn them off until hopefully we never need to use them. When CPU cycles aren’t clicking away we aren’t paying for that use. It’s a cost-effective scenario and if a tornado came through with a many-mile swipe and affected all of our three sites we want the comfort of having that data stored up on the cloud.”

Russeau recommends finding a partner to ease the transition: “if cloud computing seems complicated and confusing, having a partner that can understand and distill it down for you helps.” But the bigger picture, he says, is to “allow your mind to open up to cloud computing. It really doesn’t matter if the server is on a physical machine in the room, on multiple virtual servers in another room, or on a computer somewhere else across the world.”

“With some demos and guidance schools can see just how easy cloud computing can be. This specific project allowed the CSD 99 team to get familiar with the GCP console so that as they approach projects in the future, they have a better understanding of how to navigate GCP.”

Keegan Morrison, Chief Cloud Architect, Amplified IT

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