How a school funded a microwave link with Google Apps

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How a school funded a microwave link with Google Apps

Cloud cuts data centre costs in half.

When Mitch Miller took up his role as IT manager of St Luke's Anglican School in Bundaberg, one of his first projects to save money was to migrate the school's 1700-odd user accounts from an on-premise Exchange environment to Google Apps for Education.

"For those of you who don't know, Google Apps for Education is free," Miller told delegates of the Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit.

"At the time when we migrated to Google Apps, Exchange was a separate license for schools so we saved money there, and with the money we saved we built a microwave link to our local parish who happened to be 100m away from the exchange where we got two 20Mbps ADSL connections."

The new connectivity was a massive improvement over the 5Mbps ADSL connection the school used when Miller began, but more importantly the project demonstrated the type of savings the school could lock into by embracing the cloud.

Hosting of the school's website and other "public workloads" was next to go - migrated onto cloud hosting company Linode. The decision paid off when Bundaberg was hit by severe flooding in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Oswald in January 2013.

"While we're a school and if things go down no one's going to die or lose money, we are expected to provide an anytime learning environment for teachers and students," Miller said.

"Although our campus wasn't directly affected by the flood, we didn't have power for about 36 hours.

"It's a bit of a justification for us having our corporate website and email in the cloud. At that time it allowed us to communicate with parents and students about our school closure, and if staff wanted the kids to do some work [during that time] it was possible."

In the same year, Miller started using Amazon S3 for off-premise cloud backup and later that year switched the school's public workloads to Amazon's EC2 node in Sydney.

"We decided we were going to put some production services over there [on EC2] and see how it went," he said.

The early tests of AWS for production systems provided feedback on cost. Miller also liked the idea of scaling up and down on demand, allowing the school to move at a pace it was comfortable with - "taking little bites at a time".

In 2014, the school bit the bullet. "We've [now] got all of our production systems onto AWS," Miller said. "We still keep enough compute on campus to stand up bare bone essentials if we need to but to date we've had no disruptions with AWS."

Miller still uses S3 for backup, but now brings those backups on-site.

"I do backup our assets from AWS to campus, and we use S3 to port things out of EC2 and bring that to campus," he said. He makes three copies of backups and uses different technologies for them to mitigate risk.

Running all production systems in AWS has pushed Miller's modest IT budget much further.

"I used to get a fairly modest $60,000 to $100,000 to make my data centre go for three-to-five years - so about $20,000 a year," he said. "Our current spend with AWS is not even $7000 a year and we have all of our production services in there."

Having outgrown its microwave link, the school presently has an 80Mbps symmetric midband Ethernet service delivered over copper - but even that is close to capacity, according to Miller.

"But we're in a trial zone for the National Broadband Network so fingers crossed within a few weeks or months we'll have that," he said. "There's been a lot of earthworks outside our office."

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