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Sunday, January 12, 2014

From zero to working server in ten minutes – Trying out managed hosting

In an earlier blog I mentioned my requirements for a great help desk for our organization.   After a lengthy search, trial, and selection process, a winner was picked.  As it turned out, while the help desk used standard software that we support, it used a database version that we did not yet have running in our organization.  We were not able to upgrade our current databases, because other vendors’ systems required older database versions.
We talked about options such as starting another database server, and our help desk vendor mentioned that they had a lot of customers starting to run their software in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.  Like many districts, while we have had many cloud based software applications, we had never tried managed hosting, which has gained a huge amount of traction in recent years, with a huge number of players , now increasingly dominated by heavyweights such as Rackspace, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and IBM. 

Managed hosting is akin to renting a server, rather than buying it.  The customer gets to choose the operating system and the software stack that goes on top.  The customer typically will pay based on the software chosen, the size of the hardware needed and more.  Other charges may include additional charges for bandwidth, storage, monitoring, support, and security services.  Much like a rental of anything else, the customer has control over how long they want it, from minutes to years.  It is truly a pay as you consume commodity.  The servers are housed in the managed hosting provider’s data center, so the customer never has to worry about the plethora of mundane non-mission critical tasks that have been traditionally associated with the acquisition, installation, maintenance, and decommissioning of servers.

The traditional procurement and setup of servers in schools districts and other institutions can traditionally takes weeks, if not months.  All of the following are tasks that can be eliminated with managed hosting, so time to server spin up can be slashed:

1.       Quoting of hardware.
2.       High up front capital costs.
3.       Data center space.
4.       Air-conditioning.
5.       Power.
6.       UPS and generators.
7.       Racks.
8.       Purchase orders.
9.       Receiving and inventory of equipment.
10.   Physical setup of equipment.
11.   Operating system and software installation.
12.   Switch ports.
13.   SAN space.

I am sure there are many things I left of the list, but the point is we saved a large amount of upfront costs and saved time for our already overburdened staff.


In our case our help desk vendor had an image for us to spin up our server off of in the AWS cloud. We literally went from no server to running application server in about ten minutes.  It was incredible and makes me inclined to think that we will be running many more servers this way in the coming years.  The huge capital costs and efforts required to maintain data centers may not be sustainable when our money could be better spent on projects that benefit student learning.  While our need for servers is not likely to lessen, the cheaper and faster bandwidth becomes, the motivation for districts to move to managed hosting will increase.

This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO