How Edge Data Center Concepts Apply to K-12 Schools – But Not by Name

K-12 IT infrastructure

You’ve probably heard all sorts of buzz about edge data centers and edge computing and how they are crucial to offering reliable, high-performance end-to-end IT services. And if you have a play in the K-12 education space perhaps you’ve wondered how the edge story applies in that environment.

First, I have to say, in my many years of working with K-12 educational organizations, I have never once heard a customer talk of “edge data centers” or “edge computing.” So, I would never advise any APC by Schneider Electric partner to bring the terms into conversations with K-12 customers.

But the same concepts that make edge data centers important to enterprise and other organizations most certainly apply in K-12 scenarios, which means there is an opportunity for partners to educate customers on the importance of properly protecting the IT equipment at these sites.

While K-12 environments will vary by size and other factors, it’s likely they fall into one of two camps. One is where there’s a central data center that serves all the schools in the district, which connect to the data center in a hub-and-spoke design (as in the Moreno Valley Unified School District that I recently wrote about). The other is where each school connects to cloud-based resources rather than a central district-owned data center.

In either scenario, you can think of each school building as being an edge location. It’s really no different from a major retailer that has one or more large data centers and treats each of its stores as edge sites.

Each edge site has some networking gear to provide both internal Wi-Fi service and a connection to the outside Internet. Perhaps there’s a server or two as well as some security equipment. Hopefully it’s all securely attached to a proper IT rack and located in a room designed to house IT gear, with proper ventilation and cooling.

In practice, that is often far from the case. We’ve all seen IT gear in school janitor closets, with wires going every which way, dust all over and not so much as a lock on the door. But that’s where the opportunity lies.

K-12 schools today (as well as their higher education counterparts) are on board with the notion that providing access to technology is no longer optional; it’s imperative for 21st century teaching and learning.

Most schools have technology programs where kids routinely use Chromebooks, iPads or the like to access online resources throughout the day. In plenty of schools, there are 1:1 programs, where each student has a device to use.

In that kind of scenario, the network is paramount. Without fast, reliable Wi-Fi throughout the building, and reliable Internet access to get to Google for Education resources and the like, the whole technology initiative falls on its face.

Schools need to protect the IT gear that supplies those network connections just as the retailer does the gear in each of its stores. That means proper racks and enclosures, power distribution, UPSs to get them through any power disruptions, and cooling to prevent overheating. It can also mean maintenance services and management software, such as for remote monitoring services.

As you talk with K-12 clients, or as you sell them Chromebooks, Wi-Fi networks and other infrastructure, ask how they’re protecting all of this IT gear that is now so crucial to them. Educate them on how it’s supposed to be done, and you may just find yourself with a much larger contract that you expected.

While you’re at it, be sure to bring up the reimbursements they may be eligible for under the federal government E-rate program, in which the government matches IT invoices dollar for dollar ranging from 20% – 90% based on the affluence of the school district. This program means schools may be able to stretch their technology budgets much further than they expected – more bang for their buck. Last year, for the first time ever, there was a surplus in E-rate funds. That means every single eligible applicant got the funding they were looking for.

The Edge from U2 Source

What’s more, the program is also offering additional relief to any school district affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, including schools that took in students displaced from other storm-damaged schools. This applies even if the district received E-rate funds within the normal window.

There is indeed lots of opportunity around edge data centers, even in K-12 school districts. Just remember not to use the term “edge” – or you’ll risk changing the subject to the guitar player for U2. For morning information, visit our K-12 and Edge IT program pages.