A Serverless School

Ben ForteChromebook, Edtech, Google Apps


The term ‘Serverless School’ has been talked about for a few years now and I think it is something all of us cloud enthusiasts aspire to have.

I have been meaning to write a post about this for quite sometime and then today I attended an RM Seminar where Simon Ansell presented a presentation on ‘The Serverless School’ and it was great to see someone who shared a lot of similar ideas. So let’s have a think about what would be involved in creating a ‘Serverless School’

Things to consider

  • Legacy Apps
  • Authentication
  • Core Application Platform (Email, Apps)
  • Printing
  • MIS
  • Internet (connection)
  • Wifi
  • Devices
  • Storage
  • Backup
  • Training

I may have forgotten some things but this is everything I can currently think of.

Legacy Apps

A big reason to resist the move to be completely serverless is legacy applications. Software that teachers use which they need for their lessons. There are a few options here as I see it. The first option is to do some research and try and find new alternatives to the software. Many old software packages now have new web based versions that are either as good or sometimes even better. You could start off by looking in something like the Chrome Web Store. The next option is to look at creating a virtualised desktop that can be accessed via the web. A good option for this is using something like Ericom AccessNow which works in pretty much any modern web browser.


When you make the move to go completely serverless then you will no longer have an LDAP (Active Directory) server in your school to authenticate against. At this point you will probably want to move onto the next point which is Application Platform as this is likely to become your new authentication method. The other alternative is to look at using a Single Sign On product e.g. RM Unify, YouID, Airhead these products can also then be used to provision your users on other platforms too.

Core Application Platform

By Core Application Platform I am referring to your main productivity system e.g. Email, Word Processing, Spreadsheets etc. Now there are really only 2 to choose from Office 365 and Google Apps for Education. Anyone that knows me or has read any of my blog posts before will know I am a big advocate of Google Apps and have been for over 8 years, I was one of the first people to deploy it into education in the UK 😉


When you make a move to serverless the issues are going to probably be that your current printers will need to be served from a print server. When choosing the Google Apps route you can use Google Cloud Print and you can get Google Cloud Print ready printers too. For legacy printers that are not Google Cloud Print ready you can build small print servers that are connected to the printer and run open source software to make them available. Simon from RM says he has achieved this using RaspberryPi.


Many schools now already have the MIS hosted off site. If you have SIMS.net then you will likely have it hosted and use remote desktop to access it. There are also quite a few cloud based MIS systems available now such as RM Integris, Progresso and a recent one that I have seen Arbor.


As a rule of thumb the calculation that I have recommended to people is a 10mb connection per 100 students. I think this should probably be seen as a minimum now that we are looking at students having more than 1 to 1 devices. Students are likely to have maybe a Chromebook, Phone, Watch and eReader type device all requiring a connection to the Internet of Things. Also assuming we are looking to go ‘Serverless’ you will want to have a redundant connection into your school, preferably coming into a different physical location.


A solid reliable Wifi system will be essential in order to be able to get all your portable devices connected to your cloud systems. There are many good Wifi providers now available, my personal favourite is still Xirrus but some other big contenders are Aruba, Meru, Aerohive and also when working on a tight budget Ubiquiti is pretty awesome! You need to make sure your Wifi has the capacity to be able to handle the amount of physical clients you are likely to have, think beyond 1 device per person! When an access point says it supports 30 clients this is likely to not be enough!


In your move to a ‘Serverless School’  the traditional Windows desktop is probably not what you need anymore. Something more like a Google Chromebook is going to be the perfect device for most of your day to day tasks. You might also want to look at Chromebox and Chromebase as a desktop replacement. Recently Google has also announced Google Play for Education which allows for management and provisioning of Android Tablets. iPads are also still very popular in schools and are still the perfect device for creating quick videos using iMovie.


Once you have all your data in the cloud you need to make sure the provider you are choosing complies with EU laws. Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365 both comply with the legal requirements to handle your data. Google Apps for Education now has unlimited storage so you don’t need to worry about ever running out! Currently their only restriction is one single file must not exceed 1Tb, not really an issue :)


Once you are using Google Apps or Office 365 you are mainly going to be relying on retention policies for your backup. In both platforms deleted files will go into a bin and stay there for around 30 days and then the administrator will also get another 30 days to recover after that (these numbers are not exact). Google Vault was a paid for service but is now included for FREE for education. When using Google Apps there are also some extras you could purchase to make your backup service more robust if you feel you need it. A third party options such as Backupify. Backing up your MIS data will be handled by your hosted MIS provider.


Last but not least in fact probably this should have been at the top of the list. If you are going to be successful in going to a ‘Serverless School’ you will need buy in from all stakeholders. In order for many users to see all the advantages they are going to need training and support. You should be making IT training an important feature in your in house CPD. I have seen many great examples of this and one of my favourites is probably where you put on Pick and Mix training every week where staff can pick sessions that they are interested in. If the school decides it is going to completely migrate to a ‘Serverless School’ then the school will have to make time for the appropriate training and support and make it compulsory.


Well there you have it. I think I will definitely be back to this post to add to it in the future but for now this has covered alot of the areas that are required when thinking about implementing a ‘Serverless School’.