We’re often asked by schools whether or not they’re fully prepared to deploy a 1:1 solution for students. Your district may be thinking, “What kind of devices do we use? How will we integrate these devices in the classroom?” Both of these questions require careful thought and planning.
Another question we’re often asked is whether or not a district’s network infrastructure is fully prepared to handle a 1:1 solution. You may be thinking, “Aren’t those the boxes with flashing green lights on the ceiling?” Yes, that is partially correct. The network infrastructure does consist of boxes with flashing lights, lots of wires, and even invisible radio waves flying through the air.
Let’s focus on that network infrastructure question - Below, we will outline a number of specific questions you can ask yourself to help determine if your district’s network infrastructure is fully ready for a 1:1 deployment. This is not an all-inclusive list, but hopefully it provides a bit more insight on what you may need in order to ensure you’re ready for a successful 1:1 deployment.
What are some questions we can ask ourselves to determine if our district is 1:1 ready?
Can our network switches handle the amount of data that will travel through the infrastructure?
Network switches may look similar; these are those boxes with loads of wires attached. Just like a computer, some switches aren’t as powerful as others, and in your particular environment, more powerful, (and costly) switches may be required.
Are the connections between network closets and buildings capable of handling the amount of data in a 1:1 deployment?
Even with wireless technologies, there are still wires. Each network closet feeds to the next one with some form of wiring. It’s important to ensure these can handle the appropriate speeds for a 1:1 in your district. Imagine a water line running throughout a facility. If two large water lines are interconnected by a small water line, water can only travel through as fast as the small water line can handle. Network connections perform the same way.
Can our wireless access points provide connectivity at 5 GHz rather than 2.4 GHz?
Have you ever heard marketing from companies about cordless phones interfering with your home WiFi? This is similar. In a 1:1 network, you want to use 5 GHz over 2.4 GHz. This is extremely important. Another thing to keep in mind is your 1:1 devices must also support the 5 GHz spectrum. Just because the infrastructure can handle this does not mean devices will.
Do we have enough wireless access points?
There’s a huge difference between wireless for “coverage” and wireless for “density.” Schools require a unique wireless environment, in that they require wireless environments that will handle density, or a large number of users simultaneously.
Do we have proper support agreements for our crucial network equipment?
All equipment may be subject to some form of hardware failure. If something happens to equipment that affects the entire district’s network, do you have a number to call for support? For instance, if your firewall fails, you lose Internet access for the district. Do you have adequate support to ensure you get your firewall repaired quickly, including a replacement unit in the event of hardware failure?
Is our network properly segmented?
All network equipment is typically physically attached together by wires. Within those wires, the network can be virtually segmented. Often times, the size of the network can depend on how much segmentation is needed.
Can our servers handle the extra load of wireless devices in a 1:1 environment?
With schools moving frequently to hosted solutions (using the Internet in place of internal servers for things such as financial data, SIS, etc..) the need for in-house servers becomes less. However, there are network services such as DHCP and DNS which are still required for a network to function with these hosted solutions. It is important to ensure redundancy and reliability for these services has been configured.
Will our Internet pipe handle the new devices?
If the Internet connection from your service provider isn’t enough to handle devices, users will inevitably report slow Internet connectivity throughout the district.
What are some challenges we may face during planning or implementation of a 1:1-ready network infrastructure, and how can those be overcome?
If you’ve determined you need to upgrade pieces of the network infrastructure, what hardware/software manufacturer should be used?
Most of the time, the big name manufacturers provide the same types of equipment. Differences can be anywhere from a few proprietary features to the way pricing is handled. For instance, some manufacturers charge subscription fees to maintain their cloud-managed products. If your district prefers to budget long-term, this type of model may be best for you. However, if your district wants to purchase hardware now but not be locked into upgrading later, it might be more beneficial to purchase products without a subscription fee.
Let’s say your infrastructure hardware is ready to go, but once 1:1 rollout takes place, you experience various issues.
There are a number of issues that could occur, but one thing to do once 1:1 is rolled out is to review the network infrastructure. At this point you need to be asking yourself if everything looks as expected. Is the Internet pipe running at capacity? Are there too many devices on wireless access points? Are the connections between network closets and buildings congested? Just reviewing the overall infrastructure may help you identify problems quickly.
How can you determine the amount of bandwidth currently used across various connections in the network?
There are a number of tools available, including paid and free products. Paid products can be very expensive, and free products can be difficult to set up. In general, we recommend using open source tools such as MRTG or Observium. Tools like this can monitor network connections prior to 1:1 and give you an existing baseline. Then, once 1:1 is rolled out, you can continue to use the tools to get an idea of a normal baseline of the network.
How do you determine what kind of support agreements are needed for network infrastructure equipment?
It’s important to think about the long-term cost of a product's purchase. Some manufacturers offer “lifetime” warranties for their products, where others require annual renewals of support contracts. It’s important to not only look at the immediate cost but to evaluate any future costs, too. Do you really need to ensure support agreements on individual wireless access points, or is it more cost-effective to purchase a handful of replacements? Infrastructure hardware such as core switches, firewalls, and wireless controllers are crucial for network usage. What is the school's expectation of turnaround time should a device fail? This will help you decide what type of support agreement to purchase. Is it absolutely necessary to pay for a 24/7, 4-hour replacement plan? It may be for your district, but being able to get a replacement part next-day may be suitable for you as well, costing much less overall.
The lists above are only a sampling of the questions and challenges you will have when going 1:1. So what’s the one way to get started on a self-evaluation of whether your network infrastructure is ready? Documentation, documentation, and more documentation…. One of the best things you can do is make sure the environment is thoroughly documented. Once this is complete, many questions from the above list can be answered.
Additionally, finding a company you can partner with to help you assess your 1:1 readiness is a huge help. If you decide to pursue this path, make sure your future partner has the technical skills and vast experience in the education industry. Finding a group who has helped schools integrate technology in the classroom and implemented network infrastructures for 1:1 environments will help you succeed in preparing your environment for a 1:1 rollout.
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