Increased usage of personal devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. put an increased strain on your infrastructure. How can you best support these?
They call it the Wireless Explosion and it’s coming to a home, business, or school near you. If your network seems slow since the return to school, guess how many students and staff found a new phone, tablet, or laptop under the tree this Christmas? One prediction is that there will be an average of 3.3 wireless devices per person within the next year. eSchool News, in an article entitled Six ed-tech tips for district CIOS, warns that schools need to “double down on security”, and “stay abreast of technology trends”. How is your school preparing for and managing these changes? In this article, we address three key infrastructure components for your school network: servers, wireless access, and firewalls.
Most organizations use a server to manage users – to allocate network resources (e.g. printers), to monitor who does what, and to provide personal and shared storage locations. Although many resources (including email) can reside in the cloud, there are good reasons to have an on-site server:
- to provide faster access to files that are needed daily or by a class of students. Think about multimedia files.
- to provide a level of accountability for authorized users
to back up mission-critical data
- to install programs. Although there are great choices on cloud-based apps, many program’s functionalities may require local storage or data processing resources.
- provide printer access
- manage user desktops and devices with Group Policy or MDM (mobile device management)
A server is much more than a place to store your data – it can provide all of the features mentioned above without the internet. You need to ask yourself whether any of these can be of benefit to your school.
Only a few years ago, wireless access meant a trip to the nearest office supply store, connecting the wireless router to your network, and handing out the wireless password. And when the demand increased, you repeated the purchase and installation. However, that solution required constant monitoring of the wireless router and logging into every device to update firmware, change the password, and set bandwidth restrictions (if at all possible) – and restart the device many times per day. With today’s new generation of wireless access points, you get a great feature set at a very reasonable cost: cloud/web management, multiple SSIDs per device, bandwidth restrictions, user load balancing, and the freedom to roam without reconnecting. If you want to support a growing mobile environment (laptops, netbooks, Chromebooks, tablets) you need to begin by taking a close look at your current wireless equipment and its capabilities.
With more users on your network and more wireless clients connecting to the web, you need to consider upgrading your firewall, or in some circles, what is called a unified threat management (UTM) device. At a minimum, a firewall manages the flow of web traffic into (and out of) your local network. However, a firewall also allows you to provide safe web browsing for individuals or groups of users, to block specific categories of websites (social media, video, adult, hate, etc.), and to provide the first line of defence against hackers, malware, and viruses. Since the content on the web changes daily, it is important that your firewall receives regular updates so that your students and staff can use the web safely and confidently.
Make sure that you consider these and other areas of your IT infrastructure. Your staff, students, parents, and volunteers may just assume that your IT infrastructure will be robust and capable enough to meet whatever needs they require. Taking care of the back end will help ensure a reliable and consistent experience for them!