Cloud Computing: Tip of the Iceberg

The past four years have seen a radical shift in how K-12 schools are deploying and managing devices, due almost exclusively to low-cost Chromebooks. For many IT departments, gone are the days of creating gold builds, overnight image pushes, and even shared network drives to manage student data and devices. The replacement is, of course, the software side of the Chromebook offering: G Suite for Education. Among the many benefits of G Suite and the Google Management Console are device security, unlimited storage for education, file portability across devices, and easy setup and configuration. 

This  tip of the cloud computing iceberg in the form of Chromebooks points to what may be the next major shift in education: school district IT departments embracing a cloud-first mindset in  the infrastructure, networking, platform, and data analytics services they offer. My team is already seeing the first of these iceberglets in our engagements with organizations such as Santa Ana Unified School District, The Math Learning Center, and even the Oregon Department of Education. Not only do these customers expect the benefits and capabilities of robust cloud computing storage, network, and compute solutions of an AWS or Azure, but they are now looking more deeply at issues such as virtualization and data analytics as tools that had once been out of reach but are now well within their wheelhouse.

image of AppStream launch screen of PhET java simulation In our recent work with  Amazon Web Services  , the issue of virtualization has been one of particular concern. That is, one of AWS' many offerings is a service known as  Amazon AppStream 2.0 . In brief, AppStream 2.0 is a fully managed application streaming service that allows users to stream desktop applications from AWS to any device running a web browser. In practice, this means that AppStream 2.0 users can run desktop executables such as CAD software or legacy Java applets on a Chromebook. My team has been working  with the Amazon AppStream 2.0 team to develop and test a series of proofs-of-concept of these sorts of applications. We began with some fairly straightforward Java applications—simulations created by  PhET —and built out the solution so that a Chromebook user could run the education simulation on his or her device. From there, we've been exploring other software including drafting and photo editing tools to see just how well AppStream 2.0 works.

Cover image of google-appstream technical documentation One issue we encountered early on was the concern that this service would create yet another set of sign-ons and accounts that students would have to remember, track, and keep secure in order to extend the capabilities of their Chromebooks. Our team dug into this problem and built out a freely available set of technical documentation to help school IT departments federate Google accounts and Amazon AppStream 2.0 using custom SAML information. This documentation—along with additional details on packaging Amazon AppStream 2.0 as a Google app—are available for download on our  website. Clarity's plan is to continue this exploration with virtualization services such as Amazon AppStream 2.0 (along with other offerings from AWS including Amazon WorkSpaces) to customize solutions that help match the needs of education with these promising technologies.

If you'd like to learn more about how we support K-12 customers and other institutions using AWS services, check out out our  portfolio  or feel free to  contact me  directly.