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MIS Systems Thread, Cloud Computing and Management Information Systems- what do members think? in Technical; There are quite a few comments on Cloud Computing dotted about these forums but I was wondering what the current ...
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    Cloud Computing and Management Information Systems- what do members think?

    There are quite a few comments on Cloud Computing dotted about these forums but I was wondering what the current thinking from technical staff is on Management Information Systems that are hosted off site.

    We will soon see Progresso from Serco as the latest example of a Cloud MIS, so I expect that they will have worked on solutions to many of the obvious constraints like security, service availability and data transmission speeds.

    The key plus points seem to be ease of maintenance and availability from anywhere there is a browser. So far, in our work we have taken the view that a school-installed system is more secure, if it is written well it should be low maintenance, and if folk wish to use it from home they can use VPN - and get access to all their other stuff on their PC at the same time. Also, if it is school-based it might be easier to transfer the data to and from other data tools.

    What is the current thinking about these issues? Is there an urgency for applications to move to The Cloud? By that I mean, will schools soon be moving to choosing solely Cloud based solutions to data management rather than school-installed applications?

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    Personally it's a personal choice. It's based on the head teacher, the location and size of school.

    If a head wants a "cloud" MIS, he's more than likely to get it. If they're in an area where the fastest broadband is 1MB, it's unlikey compared with a school who's got a 100MB. Finally size, it doesn't make sense for a large school with hundreds of users to use the cloud. Having said that it I'm assuming cloud is remote, but Azure allows you to sync local and remote resources together so I guess that would be cloud. So I guess that leaves network and head teacher, and with faster more reliable broadband that leaves just the head and well with decreasing funds I guess cloud might be the answer. I just don't see it happening widespread for a number of years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike_Bostock View Post
    I expect that they will have worked on solutions to many of the obvious constraints like security, service availability and data transmission speeds.
    But the times when you might most need service availability - e.g. when there's a fire and you need to take a register - would coinide with the times when there's most likely to be a network outage.

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    I was playing around with building a web based register program for SIMS, started out as just a web version of the SIMS register, but someone pointed out it would be good it it was on a remote web server so you could access it even if the onsite SIMS server was on fire... from your iphone

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    As a small school with limited onsite resources and technical time we are seriously considering cloud for MIS and other applications. I know it will sound astonishing to most schools that we don't have a formal MIS at present; we're in the process of examining our options now... first salesmen across the threshold next week.

    We have neither budget nor staff capacity to provide the level of software, servers and access that we would like in-house. My role becomes more administrative looking after the local network and we can have the software with all the bells and whistles on hardware that is somebody else's problem and both get upgraded and updated without worrying our tiny budget too much.

    So much data in schools is already 'cloud' already, e.g. live@ edu/office 365, with sensitive data entrusted to the servers of others. Personally I see it as becoming the norm, not just in schools, for all except those businesses with the cash to be able to provide a 24/7 service that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

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    Our LA went down the cloud MIS three years ago, and it is the best thing we could have done

    Everything is located centrally, meaning schools do not have to manage servers, or software and updates

    It is also considerably cheaper than SIMS

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    We won our last two LA tenders by providing SIMS as a cloud solution. The one before we won because SIMS could be deployed locally. It all depends on your connections.

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt40k View Post
    it was on a remote web server so you could access it even if the onsite SIMS server was on fire... from your iphone
    Good point. Also, if your MIS does timetabling, it might be handy to have a distributed, high-speed compute cloud available to reduce the runtime for timetabling algorythms.
    Last edited by dhicks; 13th May 2011 at 07:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    Good point. Also, if your MIS does timetabling, it might be handy to have a distributed, high-speed compute cloud available to reduce the runtime for timetabing algorythms.
    I think the Serco offering (Progresso) will still have a locally installed solution (Scheduler) for timetabling with.

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    Methinks that we will have to get a darn sight better Broadband connection to work solely in the clouds. YHGfL installed their latest super-dooper offering over Easter. At times my old 256k modem was much faster! And I am not kidding!
    All my Timetable (NT6) files are saved to DropBox but it is a good job they sync to my PC at 7am every morning when I log on, else they would never be up-to-date! The connection is appalling during the 'normal' working day. If we were all running around in the clouds then we would be able to get 'nowt done!
    Last edited by Sivadam; 13th May 2011 at 02:35 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike_Bostock View Post
    What is the current thinking about these issues? Is there an urgency for applications to move to The Cloud? By that I mean, will schools soon be moving to choosing solely Cloud based solutions to data management rather than school-installed applications?
    I think it will depend on the School. As a large school we have dedicated MIS support on site that deals with hosting and usage issues. On the usage, the local knowledge (the way we use certain features or interpret certain data) is highly valuable; but that doesn't account for 100% of the role, so the fact that upgrades etc are done makes the role reasonably efficient. The local knowledge is extremely well placed to deal with competing demands and make decisions based on priority that is appropriate for the situation - it's not just a bunch of calls in a queue and it's not competing with other schools. As a large school we have a lot of users - several hundred staff may be using the system simultaneously and the local infrastructure is well placed to cope with that. Shunting all that over the broadband pipe introduces additional latency and increases the demand on our firewall and filters. What we might gain in removing some of the self service element (which let's face it are mostly staff costs) we may need to pay out as investment in our broadband infrastructure to cope with a) additional demands and b) change in rationale for broadband. Finally there is ownership and access to the data. There are already examples of cloud providers losing critical data. That runs from people using flickr to store their precious photo's to organisations who have paid for off site backup that wasn't (recent example was of a film production company losing a load of footage they had decided to store in the 'cloud'). MIS data for a school is critical; so if it is going to be hosted elsewhere, then we need to be expert at due diligence when it comes to engaging those partners. That's an expertise I don't think is mature yet in any sector, and education is no different.

    But it depends on the school, I can see that small schools might benefit. Some of our local primaries don't really seem to have good backup in place, they might be better of (or certainly no worse off!). They don't have dedicated onsite support anyway so have little to lose there and concentrating on good broadband provision might actually start top open up other useful services for them.

    Even for us perhaps things will change. However I'm reminded of the mainframe days when the PC came along. The PC quickly displaced the mainframe for many reasons but one was particularly prominent. The PC put the power in the hands of the end users rather than the central and often unresponsive 'computing department'. Suddenly instead of having to wait months for a report to be written and run as a job, people could do it themselves (or at least the geek in the corner could). To some extent I feel 'cloud' services involve giving up a lot of control and that may be something people will realise that they miss, only after they have made the move.

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    From experience, there can be huge differences in speeds depending on the browser that is used for the cloud MIS

    All version of Internet Explorer are pitifully slow, including IE9 which Microsoft claim is their fastest ever browser

    Firefox is faster, but the champion at the moment is Chrome

    I have found that Chrome can display the MIS at up to 70% faster than IE can

    Even on a 0.5Mbit connection, Chrome makes the cloud MIS feel like it's installed locally, where as IE needs at least a 4Mbit connection to be comparable

    Cloud MIS's can be fantastic for Primary schools that do not have dedicated IT staff, as all server hardware, software and backups are managed centrally - also saving on the cost of separate hardware

    From dealing with Secondary schools, cloud MIS's can take away the burden of managing the technicality of the hardware and software, so that the IT staff can get on with managing other school IT systems, which there are plenty

    Yes there is the question of the Internet connection going down, but our Secondary schools have backup connections to cover this possibility, which 'touch wood', they haven't had to use
    Last edited by ntm1275; 13th May 2011 at 07:20 PM.

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    I think the idea of a web-apps type thing is good. although i wouldn't want to have it hosted externally. 1. i don't trust the internet connection enough at the moment - once its gone everything is gone (being part of an LEA wan with one connection only) 2. We are still stuck with a 10mb connection for the next 2 to 2 1/2 years without room for improvement to 100mb. 3. the data protection part is to much of a risk for me if data is lost on my server then is my fault (and i have full control over keeping it safe) if the data is lost/comprimised on googles servers then its still my fault... the likes of how at risk things can be is highlighted by 100 million peoples data being lost by Sony.

    I would rather have a group of clustered webservers onsite which will host Office apps (although i would like an open source/freeware solution rather then MS).

    And for MIS all these risks are just incresed beyond an acceptable risk for me

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    I'm niggled by the reverse of a problem I got to fret about in the first 1/2 of the 90's: Adding Internet to WAN links built for a critical business app. Here & now it's adding a critical business app to WAN links used for Internet access. Same as back then I think I want "prioritisation" for the critical traffic, otherwise a lot of kids simultaneously accessing "heavy" net content can seriously harm/randomise an MIS user's experience, especially in a lower bandwidth site e.g. Primary. Are folk leaving all this to chance or attempting to do something about it?

    As discussed in one of the older threads I'm not sure I'd be entirely happy with cloud-MIS without some kind of light-weight fallback service that could cache critical stuff locally e.g. today's attendance, should the path to the cloud be down (which is what the 90's business app did). Trouble is the chances of getting lightweight anything from anyone these days seem very poor.

    Primary schools <snip> saving on the cost of separate hardware
    They don't need that, one server and a dash of not that expensive extra RAM, one VM for jack-of-nearly-all-trades school DC, another for bloated MIS. It's a bit of a no-brainer, but IME quite rare. Increased S/W complexity (your tech needs to grok Hyper-V,/ESXi/whatever) offsets the h/w reduction a bit though.
    Last edited by PiqueABoo; 13th May 2011 at 10:38 PM. Reason: seperate h/w

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    Quote Originally Posted by JPS View Post
    I think the Serco offering (Progresso) will still have a locally installed solution (Scheduler) for timetabling with.
    Correct, to start with you will still use Scheduler for Timetabling, however you will be able to use Keith Johnson's timetabler as well and integrate that into Progresso, so the choice is yours. But its still based on the extraction and integration just like Facility is now

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