- Cara Erenben posted March 29, 2012 | Appears in the Spring 2012 issue of EdTech Magazine.
- The proliferation of technology in classrooms has made clear a reality with which many network administrators struggle: You can never have too much bandwidth. In this age of one-to-one computing and “bring your own device” programs, distance learning and cloud-based applications, students, teachers and staff have come to expect that the network on which they rely during the school day will deliver the resources they need, when they need them. But making do with a patchwork network is no longer enough. As many school IT departments have discovered, at some point, the demands these emerging technologies exert on a network make a major overhaul imperative.
- Today, Power over Ethernet switches accommodate everything from video cameras to wireless access points, and the entire network runs at gigabit speeds. The school also adopted a four- to five-year rotation cycle to replace switches as they age.
- Here are signs that yours needs an overhaul.
- 1. You have an old, unmanageable infrastructure. Any equipment that’s been in place for eight years or more is simply too old, says Mark Tauschek, a lead research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. Eight-port small office/home office–class hubs, old Category-5 cabling and network speeds of less than 100 megabits per second, for example, are dated and should be upgraded. If possible, school networks should offer speeds of a gigabit or better, Tauschek adds.
- 2. You don’t have a wireless network. “The future of networks is wireless, and we are going to see fewer blue cables,” Tauschek says. Particularly in a school environment, where users are nomadic and somewhat mobile, wireless access is becoming crucial.
- 3. Your network is unreliable. When a school’s network screeches to a halt, the repercussions are huge.
- If you don’t know when part of your network is in trouble or is becoming increasingly unreliable, it’s a big tip-off that an upgrade is in order. “If you hit seven or eight years, you’ll start to see that ports or switches will start failing more regularly,”
- 4. Your network isn’t secure. Schools are legally and morally obligated to secure private student data, including grades and personal information. Security breaches expose a school not only to potential legal action, but also to viruses and other malware that can destroy or damage the network and the files that administrators, teachers and staff rely on to do their jobs. Disruptions of any kind indicate that your network is vulnerable. “If you aren’t aware of the traffic that’s passing through your network, and you don’t have visibility into where that traffic is going, then it’s probably time to think about upgrading and possibly adding some layers to the network,” Tauschek advises.
- 5. Your network isn’t ready for the future. If your network can’t handle the network-intensive applications that enliven learning in today’s classrooms, then it’s time to upgrade.
- Often, district networks have more horsepower than their administrators realize, either because they aren’t configured properly or because they aren’t being used fully. “I call it the ‘Wizard of Oz effect,’ ” says Stein, the consultant. “Dorothy always had the capability to go home — she just had to click her heels together. But she didn’t know it.” With the new contract, Hoboken’s Internet connections will increase from 50Mbps to 300Mbps. Crocamo also is upgrading the district’s firewall and web content filter so it can accommodate the faster speeds.
- Assess your needs and formulate a plan. Begin by conducting an internal review of existing resources and anticipated requirements. Among the questions to consider are these: How much bandwidth do you need? Do you have sufficient wireless access? Are your network security measures as comprehensive as they could be?
- hire networking experts who can help determine which components are most in need of an upgrade and how best to execute that transformation.
- Secure buy-in from stakeholders.
- When it comes to technology investments, people tend to be more supportive of purchases that have an immediate impact on students, so be prepared to make the case for why a stronger network will enhance their learning experience.
- Find the money. Consider your E-Rate eligibility and other grant sources. Budgets should include funds for initial one-time costs, hardware maintenance and future upgrades. Because school budgets are so tight these days, most districts will have to forgo some purchases in order to make others.
- Districts that struggle to pay for recurring costs, such as maintenance and software upgrades, sometimes find leasing to be a good solution. Most leasing arrangements amortize overall costs via a monthly payment.