On one level, school is simple—there’s usually a teacher, desks, a chalkboard, and a few books—but a lot happens behind the scenes, especially at schools like the dual Spanish-English immersion Joyce Preschool.

Like a lot of other nonprofits, Joyce manages computers and data for its staff and students. At one time it managed servers that included simple word processing documents, financial spreadsheets, photos, strategic planning documents, and more. It stored and accessed data through a main server that housed all of its files and managed a central login for all workstations. It also maintained a remote server that was used primarily by a satellite location housed within an elementary school.

Joyce was able to maintain this infrastructure without any IT staff thanks to a grant from MAP for Nonprofits, a nonprofit capacity-building organization, which provided outsourced IT at no cost. That program ended in 2014, leaving Development and Communications Director Elissa Schufman searching for a new solution. With MAP’s help, Joyce chose to convert its file storage to Google Drive.

Building on Familiar Technology 

Joyce already used Google for email and calendaring, so the transition to Drive was a natural one. School files are organized under three accounts: teachers, finance, and administrators. The school continues to require a login for its general workstations, which gives every staff member the same access to general files located on Drive.

The “teacher account” is the primary working storage for classroom staff, which means that it holds a lot of files. To accommodate the large number of users and files, Joyce purchased additional storage. In addition to the teacher account staff members also have storage space for their own files, which they can only access through the web interface.

Although some staff members use Google apps, many still choose Microsoft Word and Excel, and the school has not put any policy in place to require the use of Google. The files are mapped and synced to computers dedicated to a specific account, allowing users to ac- cess files even when connectivity is low or unavailable.

Transition Hiccups 

Like any school, Joyce is a very busy place when school is in session. “There are very few windows when computers are not being used,” Schufman said.

Joyce originally planned to convert to Google in about six weeks to minimize the disruption—two weeks for the initial upload into the Cloud and four weeks to complete syncing and testing.

From the start the process took longer than expected. There were more files than the school realized and Schufman had to troubleshoot each error that popped up. Once the files were in the Cloud, the school had trouble with the sync and found that machines were often storing duplicates of files—the data cleaning that Schufman thought was happening during the upload hadn’t happened. In fact, two computers failed in the process because they were overloaded with image files.

Looking back, Schufman thinks that she should have estimated the transition time and then doubled it. “It’s a good rule of thumb,” she added.

New Found Flexibility 

The old remote server was slow and cumbersome. Staff members who needed the flexibility to do lesson planning or other prep work at home were often frustrated by the limitations. Now it’s easy for teachers and other staff to work where and when they want to—including on personal devices. This flexibility is especially valuable during Minnesota winters.

“Sometimes it snows 10 inches overnight and you don’t want to come in (to school),” Schufman said.

With Drive, teachers are also no longer tied to specific workstations. They can take a laptop to a common area or move around the classroom and still access all their files. The satellite classroom is also now more connected to the main school. Before the transition, the teacher who worked there used her personal laptop and the slow remote server to access school information. Now everything she needs is available instantly.

Moving Deeper into the Cloud 

Now that the school has been using its Cloud solution for two years, it feels ready to more fully commit to Google’s Cloud platform by phasing in Chromebooks soon, most likely starting with the satellite classroom. A Chromebook doesn’t store much information on its own hard drive. It relies on access to Drive in the Cloud to store and edit files, which significantly reduces the need for computing power and storage.

Schufman says that the school is also considering other Google services, such as Voice for teachers who want to manage when and how they can be reached, and Photos to help Joyce manage its more than 90 GB of image files.

While moving to Google file storage has been good for Joyce, Schufman cautions that other organizations should not try to hurry the process—especially when it comes to user adoption. “Make sure you have buy-in, especially with less tech comfortable staff,” she said.

Read More

This case study is part of our recent report Moving Your IT Infrastructure Into the Cloud: Lessons from the Field. In it you can learn about your online file storage and backup options, compare G Suite and Microsoft Office 365, and read case studies that detail how individual nonprofits transitioned to the Cloud. Click here to get the full report.