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Appears the interim director of Uptown Greenville has good knowledge of its operations. So let's look elsewhere, form a...

New server will protect school district's data

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By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Avoiding ransomware scares and protecting the school district’s data are among the reasons Pitt County Schools has decided purchase a redundant server, officials said.

A redundant server is a backup to the district’s server system, according to Jeff Smith, director of technology. It ensures that the district still has access to data in case of catastrophic failure, as well as running critical services, such as time clocks and phone systems, from a secondary location.

“This would ensure that in case of catastrophic failure of our server systems, that we’re backed up, we’re accessible and we can get to our data,” said Matt Johnson, the assistant superintendent of operations, at Monday’s Pitt County Board of Education meeting. “There’s lots of benefits to having a redundant server for our district’s systems.”

One of the biggest benefits is protection from ransomware, according to Smith.

“What ransomware does is once it hits your computer, it takes your files and encrypts them,” he said. “Then when you try to open them, it says, ‘Pay $20,000 and I’ll give you the magic password that unlocks your file.’ Of course, they may or may not give it to you if you pay that.

“The best protection against ransomware attacks is having good backups because you can just go back to when the file was not encrypted and now you have your file,” Smith said.

The district creates backups every night. They are then saved in primary file storage for up to 90 days. With the redundant server, backups will happen continually, about every five seconds or so.

“If we got hit now at 4:59 p.m. now, we’d lose a day of work,” Smith said. “With the new site, we get hit at 4:59 p.m., we’d be able to back up to 4:58:55. … The software we’ll be using is currently being used by Vidant (Medical Center).”

While the City of Greenville’s ongoing ransomware struggle highlighted the necessity of the redundant server to the technology department, Smith has been saving for the server and secondary location for years, according to Johnson.

“Jeff and the technology department has been saving for this for a long time,” he said. “We put into the core of the Woodridge Park building the ability to house the redundant server. That building will be capable of housing the server.”

The secondary location also will help Pitt County Schools maintain access to its systems in case of a disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, Smith said.

“We could run all critical systems from that remote location until the main location is up again,” he said.

Smith received several quotes for the redundant server. The low quote from CDW-G was $179,488.53 and includes maintenance for the first year. After that, the yearly service contract would be about$10,000, according to Smith.

The redundant server is being purchased with state technology funds.

School board attorney Emma Hodson asked if the technology department felt the Woodridge Park location had sufficient security.

The server will be located in a secure room within the building, according to Johnson and Smith. That room will only be accessible by an “IntelliKey,” similar to the system used at schools to allow teachers to return to building from the playground.

The redundant server will back up all servers, all primary file storage and network switches. The technology department will not need training on the new server.

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