Cloud

How the Cloud is Transforming Education

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School IT departments have generally been on the forefront when it comes to embracing new technologies, and teachers who also embrace the latest technologies can reap the benefits faster. The cloud has opened up their world, and technology is poised to finally deliver on its promise to transform education.

Assisting teachers

The cloud has reversed a disappointing trend for teachers. Previously, clunky hardware and failing technology meant wasted time and frustration – hindering rather than assisting them.

All that is changing as the cloud delivers a more flexible, responsive and less device-specific form of technology into the classroom, and the way information is stored, accessed, presented and managed is transformed. Coursework can be retrieved anytime, anywhere. But it’s more than just storage.

Education apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the tracking of individual student performance. In a context where there is a five or six-year difference between the most advanced and least-capable student in a classroom, distinguishing instruction is not only a worthy goal, but a practical necessity. And that's where cloud-based technology can help. Connected apps and services such as Mathletics and Duolingo allow students to work at their own pace and adjust the order and difficulty of tasks in line with their progress.

With such innovative data on students, teachers can make better informed decisions about the next steps in learning.

Improving student outcomes

Exercise books and textbooks are increasingly becoming relics. Cloud-based student learning management systems such as EdumateMoodleEdmodo and Blackboard are now staples in most schools across The United States and other countries. Their connectivity means students have access to the most up to date case studies instead of relying on textbooks, which quickly date and become unusable.

Cloud based applications like Microsoft Outlook and Google Docs allows students greater opportunities for collaboration, as documents can be edited simultaneously by multiple authors – including the teacher. This allows for more instant, targeted feedback.

Saving money

And perhaps the biggest impact the cloud can have on academics is the resolution of overstretched budgets. The security and maintenance of expensive infrastructure and internal servers are becoming redundant. Cloud-based storage services such as Amazon, Google and Office 365 provide huge amounts of space with the added benefit of the collective skill of world-class engineers to protect information.

Large upfront costs for software are also giving way to modest subscription fees for services that are continually improved and updated. And even better, many are free! The flexibility of these apps also means students no longer have to shell out big bucks for a laptop, with the ability to access many of the applications on their smartphones or tablets.

For initiative-fatigued teachers who are after a more convenient and efficient way to improve the teaching and learning cycle, a cloud solution from Current Technologies might just be the technological breakthrough they need to re-engage with technology.

We can make the Cloud work for you

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Cloud or Dedicated Server?

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Should you be entrusting your data to the cloud or keeping it down to earth on your own servers? This is a decision facing every CIO, and it’s one they’ll be forced to justify and revisit regularly for the foreseeable future. That’s because there’s been no knock-out blow in the argument between the cloud and the in-house server. There’s plenty to be said for both, which means there is no blanket answer. Each individual company must make a decision based on what makes the most sense for the business.

Looking cloudward

Surely the chance to ditch your servers and outsource to someone who is steeped in server management seems like a gift from the universe. The arguments in favor of cloud computing are easy to make, especially to someone frustrated by the intellectual overhead and raw cost of maintaining their own servers.

The promises of the cloud include the following.

  • You pay only for what you use, so it’s incredibly flexible; you can scale up or down at will.

  • Security, upgrading, and server configuration are in the hands of experts.

In these days of everything being “as-a-service,” the idea of owning anything like a server seems downright old-fashioned. If Uber can run the world’s largest taxi service without owning any taxis, why on earth would you need to own servers?

Where to look closely

There are a few things you need to factor in to make sure you’re comfortable with any potential compromises.

Power: Cloud providers can’t match the power of a dedicated server that’s properly configured.

Speed: The scalability of the cloud has to do with getting more or less storage, not faster storage, which might be a concern when another customer is flogging the server you’re on.

Latency: If your cloud host uses dispersed locations or it’s not nearby, you might have latency issues

Taking a dedicated approach

The promise of cloud computing is most clearly seen in companies meeting one or more of the following criteria.

  • Tight budgets

  • Growth they can’t predict

  • Business-to-consumer models

  • Jobs that don’t need lots of computer power or storage or much time to run

A company that has a business-to-business model or has well-established usage needs and predictable growth will likely find running its own servers cheaper and more efficient. This is something you can quickly run the numbers on, and the results might surprise you, considering that “cheaper” is a clarion call of the cloud industry.

The issue of security

It’s also worth running the decision through the filter of security. Hackers fish where the fish are, which makes cloud hosts attractive targets. You’re not just outsourcing server configuration, you’re trusting another company with your security. If security is a concern, you’re probably better off keeping your servers in-house, where you can tailor security to your needs. Current Technologies can help you determine which solution would provide more value to your business and then set up a custom solution for your business.

Need help deciding or implementing?

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Do you need to upgrade your network?

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Upgrading your company’s network isn’t likely to be easy. Your network affects every aspect of your business, and downtime or making the wrong decisions will negatively impact everyone.

Whether you’re replacing outdated technology or expanding your network infrastructure, regular upgrades are essential for keeping your business productive and profitable as well as your data secure. On the other hand, if your network is already fit for purpose, upgrading too early will mean unnecessary expenditure and hassle.

If you're the one responsible for making that call, you should be able to evaluate your network’s suitability and decide whether it really needs an upgrade now, what type of upgrade and how to make the switchover with as little impact on the day-to-day operations as possible.

What types of upgrades?

Networks aren't a one-size-fits-all solution – they’re as diverse as your business needs them to be. Networks can be upgraded to:

  • Expand your range or capacity: As your business grows, so does your network. You could be adding more computers to your office, linking to remote locations or hiring more cloud storage to host your growing data.

  • Improve security: Network upgrades are an opportunity to improve your business’s resilience to cyberattacks. Updating hardware and software will help protect your company’s data and the privacy of your staff.

  • Boost productivity: Like any good investment, your network upgrade should pay for itself before long by improving productivity, saving time and reducing maintenance.

Figuring out what you need

Everyone on your network has unique needs and, while an upgrade may not be able to satisfy them all, you should aim for the best compromise. Talking to department heads and sending out surveys can offer valuable insights that you might not have considered. Remember that a decision of this magnitude effects everybody on the network, therefor the goal of network upgrades should be to make life easier for everybody.

You should also check capacity and usage statistics to see whether network speeds and storage need improvement. If you don’t have the resources or the know-how to evaluate your network capabilities, you can hire consultants to do it for you.

Planning the upgrade

Your survey results offer an idealistic guide to work from, but you first need to think about practicalities, such as:

  • How many devices need to connect to your network?

  • Will people connect to your network outside the office?

  • What type of software will they be using?

  • How much data is sent and received every day?

Any upgrades you make should primarily help your business achieve its objectives, which also means minimizing the negative impact on the business and on users as much as possible.

You’ll never truly be finished upgrading your network but, through careful planning and projections, you can establish a flexible network capable of supporting future growth. Technology comes and goes, but the infrastructure you lay down today can future-proof your business for years to come – not to mention making subsequent upgrades a lot easier.

Wired or wireless?

One decision you could face when rolling out your new network is whether to replace your wired connection with a wireless network hosted in the cloud.

While wireless connections are more convenient, on-premise networks have traditionally been faster and more reliable, as they experience less downtime and don’t have the same range of limitations. This has started to change, however, and cloud services also offer adequate security for most business needs.

For many companies, a hybrid model is the ideal middle ground – storing less sensitive data and apps in the cloud while keeping more critical data on your premises. This can reduce costs and improve convenience while ensuring you’ll always have access to your data when you need it.

And that’s the key consideration – are you providing the people who use your network the speed, access and capabilities they need? If not, then it’s time to upgrade and ensure you’re not holding your business back.

Get a quote for your upgrade now!

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What is the Internet of Things?

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The “Internet Of Things” is the existence of uniquely identifiable devices interconnected via the Internet. The interconnection of these devices is expected to introduce automation in nearly all fields from medicine to your own home.

There is a lot of hype about IoT, and we are at the point of wondering what it will mean for us as individuals, employees, and businesses.

The IoT will change our lives.

One example could be that your toothbrush might have a chip in it and via Bluetooth will communicate with your mobile device to tell you stuff like how long it has been since you started using it or in the case of the kids' tooth brushes, have they been used recently? Technological advances like these have people wondering, is that too invasive? We will be faced with all sorts of questions about what we do and don’t want connected to the internet.

Wearable technology is already beginning to monitor health vitals and offer connected watches that monitor or report on our movements or calories burnt. One day your refrigerator could know what is inside it and your trash can knows what you threw out. Those will work together so the shopping list on your connected fridge door can ask you to confirm the online order for replacing everything you have consumed this week for delivery tomorrow.

IoT will have very practical uses across our infrastructure as well. The ability to monitor how every piece of your internet technology is running and quickly addressing problems will be vital or businesses in the long run. The Internet of Things will also have a big impact on things like street lights and traffic lights. These will soon have sensors, so those in charge of maintenance know where to replace a burned-out bulb. Pipes will be able to detect where a leak is occurring so that water wastage is reduced (today 30% of our water supply is currently lost to leaks). The infrastructure cost savings by this sort of technology in smart-pipes will equate to billions of dollars and save many valleys from being flooded by new dams.

There are plenty more examples of this sort of sensor information making big differences in our personal lives, and when this is tied to big data and data analytics the world will change quickly and significantly. The impact the IoT will have on businesses will be huge.

IoT will affect your business, so be prepared.

Some of the technology is here today and much of it is in development now. Large companies have embarked on ambitious big data projects, and many small-medium organizations have started collecting what data they can. This is leading to a growing need for data storage systems and analytics tools today.

If your business is not paying attention to the current changes in IoT technology and looking at what it means to your industry, whether you are in education, manufacturing, healthcare or consulting services, there are changes coming to technology and the IoT that will change the way your industry thinks and works. The IoT will allow organizations to minimize waste and overall be more efficient.

We will post more updates on how IoT is affecting local businesses, but in the meantime stay alert, not alarmed, and proactively seek out how the IoT changes in your industry.

How can we make the IoT work for you?

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IT System Management for Academics

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Universities and other learning institutes have developed many different strategies for how they provide computing and infrastructure services to their users. For some schools, a cloud model makes both technical and financial sense as a way for the IT group to deliver applications and services effectively and efficiently. For others, well secured and backed up in-house hardware gets the job done, while most go with a combination of both.

Once upon a time, offering basic services—networking, clients, servers, and applications—was all that an academic IT group would ever be called on to provide. Now departments and schools are asked of a lot more from employees and students. If you’re tasked with meeting those expectations, the infrastructure you build must accomplish three things.

1. Break it down

Services, applications, and infrastructure should be broken into individual pieces and offered on that basis. That means:

  1. Supporting virtual servers to provide those services.

  2. Investing in software-defined networks that provision network capability that changes as rapidly as the demand for computing services from your users.

Thinking of your internet technology in smaller increments means thinking of your infrastructure in more complete terms—servers, storage, and networking, all under the control of software that can manage individual services and allocate resources on demand.

2. Add it up

Breaking up your service offerings into small pieces makes no sense if you continue to account for your internet technology in old ways. An out-of-band management style that breaks things up allows for the feeding data to accounting systems without adding traffic to the production network or servers. Out-of-band management also allows for users to still do what they need to even if your system experiences some unplanned downtime.

Between new services, security, and the avoidance of outages, the importance of out-of-band servers and network infrastructure increases dramatically. You'll want to specify systems (including transaction-ready storage) that can cope with changing demands.

3. Lock it down

Smaller computing units mean a greater number of points of potential intrusion. Security, then, becomes a service that is part of everything else you offer to internal customers.

Current-generation servers offer features that provide tremendous assistance in keeping data and resources safe. Regardless of whether the server CPUs are made by Intel or AMD, similar features allow administrators to:

  1. Explore the ways in which your target operating system (or hypervisor) makes use of these features.

  2. Ensure you have configured the operating system to take advantage of those features.

When you look to the cloud for a model, you add a bit of complexity to your IT operation, but you significantly increase the number of services you can provide and the quality of those services.

Modern academics and employees have built their expectations on cloud services. Make sure:

  1. Your hardware infrastructure is up to the task

  2. You've built the right software for management and accounting

Then you'll be ready to provide the kind of IT service that keeps researchers, academics, and students happy and productive

How can we help you help your students?

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Storing Medical Data in the Cloud

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From doctor-patient confidentiality to insurance non-disclosure agreements, we do all we can to ensure our medical data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands—and for some healthcare organizations, this makes the idea of storing such data in the cloud quite alarming. Though the cloud promises to reduce costs and streamline records management, it’s all too often (and wrongly) associated with the specter of cybercrime and other security breaches. Fortunately, it’s much safer than you might think.

A slow revolution

In 2011, only 4% of healthcare providers had moved to the cloud. Adoption rates have since skyrocketed to over 70%. However, it appears that some in the industry are still reluctant to make the leap, and the main concern among detractors appears to be the possibility of a security breach.

However, when it comes to sensitive data, a security breach isn’t the only thing you have to worry about—data might also be lost as the result of a physical event, like a fire or flood. When keeping your data in the cloud, it is being secured by IT professionals at groups like Microsoft and Google, whose only job it to secure your data. In other words, storing data in the cloud might be the safest option available.

Meeting industry standards with HIPAA

The good news is that you no longer have to determine for yourself whether or not a cloud provider is able to protect sensitive medical data. In 2013, the federal government expanded the privacy and security protections established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) so that they now apply to electronic health records. The act outlines strict procedures for storing such records using data encryption and destruction. It also imposes significant penalties on non-compliant organizations.

From the clinic to the cloud

When a healthcare organization decides to move to the cloud, it should check that its cloud provider is HIPAA compliant. The U.S. Department of Health doesn’t itself authorize any HIPAA certification programs. However, cloud providers can voluntarily undergo an audit that takes into account the HIPPA Audit Protocols. If they pass, you can be confident that they’re capable of storing your data in a safe and secure environment—which means that the prognosis for your organization’s medical records is very good indeed.

Current Technologies is here for all your data storage needs

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The Right Data Storage For Your School

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A Datacenter Filled With Small Servers


As the economics of cloud computing continues to evolve, many school districts are asking whether moving their entire datacenters to the cloud is the best way to improve IT response and keep IT on budget. There are certainly advantages to some cloud services, and any modern educational IT infrastructure should contain some elements that are cloud-based. But there are also reasons to keep some IT functions local. For those, a datacenter furnished with multiple small servers can be the perfect answer.

Converged, Not Hyper-Converged

The arrival of converged systems means that educational IT professionals have an ideal answer for many applications. Notice that it's converged systems we're talking about and not hyper-converged systems.

The highly virtualized and automated operation of a hyper-converged system is perfect for organizations with rapidly changing load levels and requirements, but most educational IT systems value stability and regularity. For those characteristics, the overhead of the hyper-converged system is difficult to justify.

Converged systems have little additional overhead compared with separate components deployed around a datacenter and a host of benefits. Converged systems tend to reduce, rather than increase, the management load of an IT staff.

  • There are physical savings that come from putting as much as possible into a single rack enclosure

  • There is the assurance that all of the components are certified by the vendor to work together

Ultimately, the key to justifying and successfully deploying small servers in a district datacenter boils down to understanding the applications that prefer the local hosting treatment.

Examples of data that might benefit from staying on local servers rather than being transported to cloud servers include:

  • Sensitive personnel records

  • Student records with personal identification information left intact

  • Financial information

Where The Cloud Comes In

That is not to say there's no role for cloud services in the modern IT infrastructure. The secret is understanding which data can best be stored in the cloud and which needs to remain in the local datacenter.

The decision should be somewhat easier with a converged datacenter because an integrated hardware stack can be configured to more easily be deployed as part of a hybrid system with cloud services.

The networking piece of the converged stack is especially important to ensure that data is shared as part of a seamless process, rather than simply being passed off from one type of computing equipment to another.

From an economic standpoint, the self-hosted pieces of the infrastructure have an advantage in that the ongoing cost will be fixed over the life of the converged stack. That cost can be lower than many professionals anticipate because, for most districts, small servers will be sufficiently powerful to handle the applications and data sets required. Current Techhologies has found that when multiple small, on-site servers combined with the right cloud services, the result will be a secure, economical IT infrastructure that will handle school needs for years into the future.

We Can Build A Custom Hybrid Solution For You

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Connecting Branch Offices Made Easier

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Branch Offices Shouldn't Be Separate Worlds


Running a business across multiple locations has always had its share of IT challenges. Past approaches consisted of duplicating data between sites or relied on an often-unreliable wide-area network (WAN) links to make remote branches seem like part of the office network. With fast Internet connectivity now widespread, there are more ways than ever to securely connect staff at multiple offices

Extending corporate networks to remote sites has become far easier now that inter-office traffic can be routed across the internet without the need for expensive telecommunications links. With providers across the country improving their broadband services, it’s becoming easier than ever to link branch offices with rapid, secure, and reliable connectivity.

Keeping Your Data Safe

Data security, of course, is paramount when linking offices over the Internet. For this reason, you’ll need to encrypt your inter-office data by setting up a virtual private network (VPN) that creates a "tunnel" through the Internet between your work sites. Such tunnels have been widely and successfully used for years to link sites and to allow mobile users to log into corporate networks while they travel.

However, encrypting data is only one part of the challenge. With large numbers of branch offices in operation, you’ll need to develop and manage a coherent data architecture that controls where data goes, where it is stored, and how it is safely stored.

Previous store-and-forward models would see branch offices—particularly in time-sensitive retail operations—caching data at the remote site and periodically synchronizing it with central databases. Now that businesses are online and always available, data is more effectively transmitted in real time for storage in central transactional databases, which are often duplicated in a second, remote data center for redundancy and disaster recovery.

Cloud Solutions

Increasingly, smaller businesses are turning to cloud services to link up their branch offices in a different way. In this model, data is stored centrally in a cloud service and each branch office uses the same techniques to access it.

This approach lets businesses locate the data in whatever mission-critical data center is appropriate for the task while providing each branch office with the ability to access and collaborate on documents equally. This architecture also allows businesses to provide more consistent access to supporting services like unified communications, video delivery, identity management, security, and more, which are available to all employees at all branches.

With a cloud storage solution set up by Current Technologies, branch offices no longer need to be treated like remote outposts. By tapping into the flexibility and configuration of Internet-based services, it’s now possible to link even remote branch offices more seamlessly than ever before.

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Why Smart Money Is Moving To The Cloud

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The benefits of owning equipment are thin when what you have bought will be outpaced within months by the next generation. The new equipment will be faster, more powerful, and cost less to run.

Outsourcing to cloud specialists means running services on better equipment at a lower cost. And not buying equipment means those costs shift from capital to operating expenses. All the expenses are deductible in a single tax year. No more carrying depreciation.

When enterprises make the decision to free up real estate, skilled staff and time by moving to the cloud, the first things they move tend to be email, accounting, software and backups.

Accounting

"An accounting file on a server or desktop is difficult to access by anyone who is not in front of the computer,” says Sholto Macpherson, editor of Digital First, a website dedicated to accounting technology. “Once it is in the cloud, a company can access it from anywhere and share it with external accountants, auditors, company directors and senior management."

That is why the cloud is where innovation is, Macpherson says. “Accounting software in the cloud can plug into many sources of data, such as e-commerce platforms, inventory and warehouse management, analytics and CRM software. Software developers are prioritizing online software, so the cloud then becomes the best source of innovation."

Email

Email is an area where vendors have significant cloud experience and supporting infrastructure. That makes it another good choice for a first move in transitioning to the cloud.

Cost savings are just one reason. When the US government’s CIO told agencies to identify at least three legacy systems to move to the cloud, many chose email. Their reasons included cost savings and also the potential to:

  • Provide more reliable services

  • Upgrade faster

  • Offer new collaboration capabilities

Software

Software as a service means lower initial costs. And there is no need to add hardware, software or bandwidth as the user base grows, because that is up to the software provider.

The software provider also manages all updates and upgrades, so there are no patches for customers to download or install.

Backup

Cloud backup avoids a common problem in backup infrastructure: a company adds storage in the primary environment but forgets to add additional capacity to match it in the backup environment. With cloud backup, you simply take as much as you need. As you add storage in the primary environment, your cloud service scales to match it.

You reduce your costs because you are not responsible for the infrastructure. And those costs can be predictable with fixed pricing.

The vendor might also offer additional benefits, like making replication between sites and keeping multiple copies.

Switching To The Cloud Is Easier Than You Think!

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IT Standardization Is Key For Any BYOD Policy

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It may have been inconceivable ten years ago, but it didn't take long for today’s workers to get used to bringing their own technology to work. Driven by claims that they can work more productively on their own devices, workers now take bring your own device (BYOD) policies for granted, even though they have created management and security headaches for IT administrators.

Businesses have long standardized their equipment to make it easier to swap in new PCs when old ones break or need to be upgraded. Yet the lack of control over laptops and other BYOD devices is challenging this practice, presenting issues for IT administrators and the integrity of business data.

Administrators often have no way of finding out, or improving, a device’s security profile. This leaves businesses exposed when a new software vulnerability is discovered since administrators have no way to patch or upgrade the software on users’ personal devices; studies regularly attribute most security breaches to unpatched vulnerabilities that had been fixed years ago but were never applied to users’ devices.

Standardize Your Apps

These problems create a compelling case for standardization—if not of the devices themselves, then of the applications that they are running. It’s not just about making system administrators’ lives easier, but by mandating a consistent set of applications, for example, it’s easier to help employees communicate smoothly and effectively regardless of where they go or what device they’re using.

Standardizing productivity applications ensures that documents can be easily shared and used, minimizing the need for costly and time-consuming manual entry of information. It also reduces the need for staff training and making it easier to move employees between locations. It also reduces the number of applications needing support. With the average business already running well over 100 different applications, any reduction in complexity can only be a good thing.

Consolidating your applications also offers considerable cost benefits: you’re likely to be able to spend less on licensing costs than you would when buying multiple applications, and because you’re buying an application for a large number of users you will have better bargaining power with your suppliers.

Consider Cloud Solutions

It’s worth noting the value of cloud-based productivity tools in meeting these goals. Although some users require sophisticated productivity tools for certain jobs, in most environments users could make do just as well with a cloud-based tool such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps. These store data in a central place where all users can easily access, view, and change information from any device, at any time.

The BYOD cat may already be out of the bag, but by standardizing your IT applications and infrastructure, you can reduce costs while remaining competitive, and improve flexibility. By identifying the best opportunities for standardization, you’ll be able to reduce technology-management overheads and ensure that your users are more productive, more often.

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