North Carolina ‘races to the top’ in the cloud

The North Carolina Education Cloud (NCEdCloud) is an initiative driven out of the state’s $400 million federal Race to the Top award in 2010 administered by the N.C. Department of Public Structure that involves several “cloud” infrastructure opportunities for Local Education Agencies (LEA) and charter schools. NCEdCloud is a technology infrastructure and services program supporting the K-12 education enterprise statewide. Specifically, it will facilitate migration from LEA-hosted server infrastructure to cloud-hosted infrastructure as a service. MCNC plays a valuable role in NCEdCloud as the state looks at moving into cloud-hosted infrastructure as a service.

"Everybody had some sort of connectivity when we started the connectivity project, but it was just all over the place. What we wanted to do was to establish a bar, and essentially make the infrastructure transparent while helping facilitate anywhere access."
--Phil Emer
Leader, NCEdCloud
Director, Technology Planning and Policy
Friday Institute of Educational Innovation
N.C. State University

The N.C. School Connectivity Initiative built the foundation for NCEdCloud both in terms of providing network infrastructure to all LEAs and in establishing a rigorous project planning and deployment methodology. As with all IT initiatives, the deployment of NCEdCloud will require careful planning. MCNC is providing supportive data from all 115 school districts in North Carolina to inform good decision making on the next steps of the project regarding cloud-based services including the use of Zscaler for content filtering services.

Part of the reliability of cloud-based infrastructure is the best-in-class content filtering and management. MCNC is working with Zscaler for integrated, cloud-based Web security functionality for Web content filtering and advanced security protection. Cloud-based security provides a cost-effective solution with no hardware cost or maintenance overhead, no client software to install, and the shared savings of a multi-tenant solution. The multi-tenant environment allows LEAs and charter schools to manage and customize their Web security policies.

The MCNC Web security solution can be used by a LEA or charter school to replace or complement their existing content filtering solution. A LEA or charter school that wishes to keep their existing content filtering solution can still take advantage of the security protection features to provide an additional layer of security around their network perimeter. A LEA or charter school also may elect to only use the Web security solution for remote and mobile clients.

Virtually everything you need today can be performed through a Web browser. A key reason NCEdCloud was funded by Race to the Top was to support the various technology needs of the award. While infrastructure services are exclusively assigned for LEA use, most technology resources deployed by other initiatives will be built around the service delivery platform. This robust infrastructure will support the development of and access to online instructional resources as well as reduce long-term IT costs; providing sustainable funding for new instructional and leadership programs.

"Having a robust, scalable network that encourages use of the resource that is NCREN allows the LEAs or charters to opt-in to cloud technologies without having to worry if the network will cause the cloud resources to be ineffective or unreliable."
--Ed Chase
Manager, N.C. School Connectivity Initiative and NCEdCloud
N.C. Department of Public Instruction

“The Race to the Top initiative will involve several cloud infrastructure opportunities for LEAs and charters,” commented Ed Chase, manager of the N.C. School Connectivity Initiative and NCEdCloud for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. “Having a robust, scalable network that encourages use of the resource that is NCREN allows the LEAs or charters to opt-in to cloud technologies without having to worry if the network will cause the cloud resources to be ineffective or unreliable.”

NCEdCloud at its core is an outsourcing program. It transitions LEA server and storage infrastructure to commercial cloud providers and establishes an NCEdCloud administrator to oversee the commercial providers and to manage the process of moving services into and out of the cloud. Phil Emer currently serves as director of technology planning and policy at the Friday Institute of Educational Innovation at N.C. State University where he also leads NCEdCloud.

“Everybody had some sort of connectivity when we started the connectivity project, but it was just all over the place,” said Emer last April, citing some places were pretty good, some were horrendous, and some had good connection speeds but lacked in reliability. “What we wanted to do was to establish a bar, and essentially make the infrastructure transparent while helping facilitate anywhere access.”

NCEdCloud will provide for equity of access to compute and storage resources; efficient scaling according to aggregate K-12 usage requirements in the state; consistently high availability, reliability and performance; a common infrastructure platform to support emerging instructional and data systems; and sustainable and predictable operational cost. The primary objective is to provide a world-class IT infrastructure as a foundational component of the North Carolina education enterprise.