Case Study: Education Success Story

West Covina USD Leverages Unitrends, Protecting 100+ TB and 10,000+ Students as District Pivots Quickly Amidst Pandemic

The training and support from the get-go has been top notch. From learning about what [Unitrends] can do, implementing it, and having it up and running to where we can manage it so easily — it kind of blew my mind. Tony Ramirez
Chief Technology Officer

Unitrends Solution for West Covina Unified School District

Protected Environment
  • 100+ TB
  • VMware Virtual Servers
  • Cisco UCS
  • Exchange
  • SQL
  • SharePoint
  • Full support for heterogenous environment
  • Ransomware protection
  • Improved backup and recovery times (file, VM, application)
  • Deep Cisco UCS integration, including support for service profiles
  • Ease of use
  • Holistic support
  • Regulatory compliance (i.e. HIPAA, FERPA)

The Challenge

Serving as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for WCUSD for the past 3+ years, Tony Ramirez has always placed an emphasis on the outcomes of the students he and the district he serves. “I love doing what I do to give back to our future generations by providing students with the resources they need to thrive, and to make sure that the resources that are brought to them over the web are secure, safe and beneficial to them as they become lifelong learners,” says Ramirez.

The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 altered the education landscape drastically and WCUSD’s efforts to enable digital learning took center stage.

“Delivery changed overnight,” recalls Ramirez. All of a sudden, Ramirez and his team were responsible for transitioning to secure, fully remote learning environments for 10,000 students in order to deliver curriculums ranging from traditional K-12, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses to Dual Language Immersion Programs and more.

“We had to shift not just the ability to get students what they need, but to train the staff to deliver that, to protect ourselves and to have the support staff continue to support not only our instructors and teachers, but our students and their families as well.”

The 2020-21 school year launched with distance learning, as virtual classrooms were spun up to deliver the district’s robust academic programs. That burden was placed on IT. Ramirez and his team took careful steps to ensure online student interactions were safe and secure and that the district was able to maintain ongoing regulatory compliance for over 100TB of data, including student academic and health records.

“My goal is to ensure we’re able to grow in the ways we need to grow and pivot in the ways we need to pivot, especially in the last year,” Ramirez says. “Devices, hotspots, connection to the internet… you’d think it would be fundamental these days, but it’s not. We have a number of students that didn’t have access to all these things. Being able to say that every one of our students has a device, has a connection, just as a starting point — it may not seem like much, but a lot goes on behind the scenes.”

West Covina Unified School District
West Covina Unified School District (WCUSD) has served the community of West Covina, California, in the eastern San Gabriel Valley for more than a century. Since its inception in 1915 with one school and less than a dozen students, WCUSD has grown substantially, today supporting 15 local area schools. WCUSD is recognized as a “School District of Choice,” allowing students to choose to attend any school within the district to ensure the various needs and interests of students are being met. With a combination of elementary, middle and high school configurations, each school within the district offers unique programs, standards-based curriculums and highly qualified teachers to serve an incredibly diverse population. Tony Ramirez, Chief Technology Officer, leads a team of 15 IT professionals who support more than 10,000 students and 1,200 faculty and staff throughout the district.

Follow Up

As the district transitioned to a technology-delivered model, protecting users and their data in a dispersed academic environment was critical. The potential risks of remote networks and young students who may not understand the ramifications of clicking a malicious link or attachment had to be mitigated.

“There are a lot of regulations around the data we maintain,” says Ramirez. “A lot of it has to be HIPAA-compliant. As far as student data that has to be maintained by many regulations FERPA, COPPA, CIPA, etc. is concerned, it’s important we adhere to all those guidelines and have processes and procedures in place. Sharing student data outside of our network is a huge one these days, and keeping student data private is something we are very keen on.”

To protect the district’s 100+ TB of data, much of it subject to regulatory standards and compliance, Ramirez found a great fit in Unitrends.

“We’d shifted from one backup software to the next, probably two or three different times over the last five years, prior to Unitrends.” Ramirez recalls. “We found they weren’t reliable, were hard to manage, and we didn’t have any confidence or trust in half the backups or their restoration.”

After an evaluation period during which Ramirez, his senior engineers and network technicians met with the Unitrends team and their local partner, NIC Partners, they opted to deploy a Unitrends 8100 Recovery Series purpose-built backup appliance. Through the evaluation, Ramirez and his team determined that Unitrends offered the right combination of functionality, ease of use and support to enable a multi-functional IT team tasked with sustaining rapid growth and change within the environment.

“We wanted something slick enough on the surface to be able to manage and get our team in so they can get what they need, but also have the assurance and visibility on those backups to ensure our data was protected,” Ramirez says.

The district had also struggled in the past with varying levels of support. All too often, running a backup vendor’s software on top of hardware created unnecessary headaches for Ramirez and his team.

“It would be hours and hours on the phone just for the run around, pointing fingers between hardware, software, even to our virtual environment. Everyone was pointing fingers, and nobody was doing anything about it.”

Once Ramirez and his team were introduced to the Unitrends Recovery Series, he saw the value in leveraging a backup solution that converged hardware, software and the backup application into a holistically supported purpose-built appliance.

“Unitrends really changed the game. One solution to look at to give us all the information that we needed and do what we needed to do and save us time and effort,” Ramirez says. He continues:

“When we talk about ease of use, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the power beneath the hood… I think [Unitrends] is presented in a way that’s easy enough daily, but if you need to get into it, fine-tune some things, you can do that, too.”

WCUSD has leveraged Unitrends’ backup and recovery capabilities for supporting their heterogenous, multi-site environment. “We’re protecting north of 100TB with Unitrends,” says Ramirez. “We protect all 15 schools. We have a hub and spoke topology where everything is central at our district office and everything is disseminated throughout the rest of our school sites.

“We have a wide variety of different applications and hardware systems that we maintain, and not just for the delivery of software and programs, but infrastructure as well. Everything’s [Internet of Things] (IOT) these days — alive, smart and connected. We have to make sure all those things are backed up, protected and secure.”

Whether it’s recovery of individual user files, recovering crashed or corrupted virtual machines (VMs) or restoring applications, Tony and his team have relied on Unitrends to accomplish their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) goals.

“The differentiation between the types of backups that we have, the different jobs we have running for the different types of scenarios depending on the backups we need and how often we need them, it really checks all the boxes.”

Tony and his team were able to get Unitrends implemented into their environment quickly and continue to leverage Unitrends training, knowledge base and support community to optimize their day-to-day operations with the solution.

“I don’t know any solution in the last 5-10 years that I’ve implemented that has been such a breeze. As a CTO, it’s one less headache, one less issue… everything has worked exactly how it should and we’ve been using [Unitrends] on multiple occasions to help and support our ecosystem.”