It’s all about to happen this upcoming school year. The much anticipated fall 2014 deadline for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is here.

State education chiefs and governors in 48 states developed the Common Core, a set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics, to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take for-credit introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs. Currently, 43 states have voluntarily adopted Common Core and are working to implement these standards. Teachers, parents, school administrators, and education experts from across the country provided input into their development, but the actual implementation of the Common Core is led entirely at the state and local levels.

A key component of the CCSS is the heavy reliance on the effective use of technology for instruction, collaborative learning, assessment, and data analysis. One of the biggest challenges for many school districts looking to implement CCSS is the mandate that ALL school districts must be able to deliver online testing and assessment.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by CDW-G found that 83 percent of respondents noted that meeting the technology requirements for online assessments was among the top three IT priorities of school districts nationwide. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said it was their top IT priority.

CCSS mandates online assessment because it is easier to deliver and is more secure than previous methods, such as those using paper and pencil. Online test delivery is less time-consuming and provides more accurate measurement of student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

While the importance of online assessment results cannot be overemphasized it requires an IT infrastructure that is highly scalable and secure. So how can schools become compliant by the deadline? Many schools have started to explore virtualized desktops as a way to address the BYOD challenge. This is an important first step that pays off when looking at online assessments as well.

Virtualized desktops can enable secure desktop access and file sharing over standard network infrastructures. But virtualizing alone is an incomplete solution – it doesn’t transform your back end. Higher storage costs and an inflexible storage infrastructure can offset desktop virtualization’s advantages—forcing schools to choose between doing right by the student or by the taxpayer.

One way to avoid any such tradeoffs is by looking at a pre-validated, integrated solution like FlexPod®. Developed by industry leaders NetApp and Cisco, FlexPod is a proven, validated and economical path to take IT departments from simple zones of virtualization to the cloud and IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS).

Many universities like the University of Tennessee, Knoxville are already using FlexPod to build their application and desktop virtualization delivery systems. That’s because FlexPod offers immediate advantages to educational organizations still using older, “stackpack” architecture. These advantages include:

  • Maintain security throughout your virtualized environment
  • Wire your data center just once for all protocols
  • Use the same technology for all applications at any scale
  • Store all your data in half the space and gain operational/management efficiencies
  • Implement new infrastructure that is pre-validated and leverages your current investments

Let’s focus on two of those benefits of particular importance to educational organizations that need to move swiftly – security and building on top of existing infrastructure.

A FlexPod solution allows you to securely separate data in both virtualized and non-virtualized environments. Separate tenants do not have access to each other’s resources – operating system, bandwidth, or storage. And, you can manage this IT transformation with the same tool set and knowledge base.

For public sector organizations at any level, “rip and replace” is almost never a good option for infrastructure enhancements, nor a financially feasible option. With a FlexPod solution, you can build on your existing IT infrastructure investments. The FlexPod architecture leverages your current systems while also providing step-by-step instructions for repeatable deployments with a long list of popular hypervisors, operating systems, applications, and infrastructure software from VMware, Microsoft, RedHat, SAP, Citrix, and Oracle.

Another advantage of these best of breed companies is the cooperative customer support structure schools receive. Essentially, the educational customer calls whichever entity they believe the problem lies with, VMware for example, and troubleshoots the issue. However, if VMware has validated the issue isn’t related to VMware and believes it may be network related, VMware will then call Cisco directly and continue working the issue.

The Common Core mandate for online assessments is the hardest test in generations for school systems across the country. They need to meet these mandates this year but need to do it in a smart way, one that preserves scalability, efficiency, and security. FlexPod, as a proven and validated data center platform, is a great option for passing this test with flying colors.