Sunday 23 November 2014

A Design for a SaaS School.

In most schools SaaS services such as Microsoft Office365 and GSuite for Education have a supporting role for on-premise installations. SaaS is often seen as a convenient and cost effective way of extending a more traditional IT installation while at the same time fulfilling a number of requirements around mobility and remote access to messaging and data.

However the core service remains on-premise with SaaS acting as an extension to the solution.

A SaaS school reverses this design. In this model SaaS makes up the core provision with on-premise services reduced to a minimum. The basic design principle is that all services are delivered using SaaS unless there is a clear operational advantage why the service remains local.

Taking this to a logical conclusion the local install would comprise of five elements.

  • An Internet connection and terminating router.
  • An edge security appliance (firewall)
  • A local network service appliance.
  • A switched network optimised for mobility and SaaS
  • The end user devices.

Other design principles include:
  • The internet connection becomes the core facility for service delivery. For this reason it is elevated to the same level of importance in the design as the local network or storage  in more traditional approaches.
  • All data accessed locally must be replicated to a SaaS service using Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or a similar service. Data stored locally is limited to systems configuration and metadata.
  • Network functions are also supported by SaaS. This includes DNS, directory services and wireless management.
  • The solution is location independent. The resources available to the user are identical and behave in the same way regardless of how and where the services is accessed.
  • The solution is device and OS independent with a strong emphasis toward mobile.

The solution can incorporate either Microsoft Office365 or GSuite for Education as the principal SaaS service.

Although it may appear a radical approach a ‘server-free’ school based has existed as a working ‘proof-of-concept’ for a number of years as the pressures on education forced schools to start looking at more sustainable and affordable ICT options.

In the an early initiative in the southwest region of the UK that used Google Docs has been documented by Steve Moss in his personal blog

A major feature of this project is how forward thinking it was at the time and how much easier it would be to achieve with the resources available today.

As services such GSuite for Education are rolled out to schools worldwide the dominant model will be "server free" because the user experience for both staff and students is better and the on-premise alternative is unsustainable at scale.

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