Building a smarter network


4 strategies schools can take to meet network performance demands

Given the data, networking, and security implications of upcoming technology trends, K-12 schools will require a variety of innovations to meet dramatically increased wireless and wired network performance demands without adding more stress on overworked IT staffers.

We recommend the following strategies:

1. Adopt smart infrastructure.
To keep IT overhead low while delivering the performance required to power Internet of things (IoT) devices, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) applications and whatever comes next, invest in more intelligent networking infrastructure. At the wired networking layer, replace your outdated switching paradigm with a modern platform that supports the new IEEE 802.3bz standard for multi-gigabit Ethernet and is driven by an advanced software operating system.

Such solutions offer capabilities like dynamic micro segmentation for unified functionality and policy enforcement between wired and wireless networks. This enables appropriately separating the various different types of voice, video and data traffic to ensure smooth experiences for all.

In addition, the most sophisticated switching solutions provide real-time analytics and automated anomaly detection. The former provides granular visibility to detect problems in real time or analyze trends for quickly gaining insights and predicting – or avoiding – issues that lead to scale, security and performance bottlenecks.

(Next page: More steps to building a smarter network)

Also, with automated anomaly detection, your infrastructure can begin collecting traffic data the moment an event starts, and correlate the data with various sources, to provide IT with immediate information, rather than requiring painstaking historical research after a user reports an issue. This capability even assists with security by showing when a traffic spike is related to normal usage rather than an attack.

In short, smart infrastructure enables you to conduct efficient policy-based troubleshooting and administration to keep your network up and running with minimal human intervention.

2. Leverage security advances.
Similar to your networking hardware, infusing real-time intelligence into your security layers permits detecting subtle changes that accompany modern cyberattacks.

No matter how well you secure your wireless and wired networks, security experts now agree that today’s advanced threats will eventually get inside. In fact, the most recent studies indicate that more than two-thirds of breaches actually involve internal, not external, actors.

Fortunately, you can now add sophisticated analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)-based machine learning to your defenses. These solutions detect shifts in user or device behavior that often accompany a threat, whether originating from inside or out. In other words, if a 3D printer begins masquerading as an AR/VR app, an AI-enabled access-control solution can detect this nuance faster than humanly possible and immediately deny network access while simultaneously notifying appropriate individuals.

The most advanced solutions also offer clear, understandable feedback to anyone attempting to use a compromised device–such as sending a message to a 3D printer’s potential user to redirect them to an operational device.

3. Rev up management automation.
On the wireless side, operating-system innovations enable automating even more tasks for greater efficiency.

Advanced solutions include a hierarchical architecture that enables configuring your entire network from a centralized dashboard, regardless of how many separate facilities your district maintains. This not only streamlines Wi-Fi deployment but also permits applying changes quickly by automatically flowing new configurations from the top of the hierarchy throughout all locations.

Another feature to leverage is multi-tenancy for creating separate sub-networks, within the same larger network, that use the same access point (AP) simultaneously. For example, using multi-tenancy technology to place facilities-management IoT devices in a separate environment from classroom IoT allows the traffic to run over the same APs but remain completely segregated. This segmentation can help reduce management complexities related to the explosion of IoT while also enhancing security.

4. Get it as-a-service.
Regardless which wireless and wired solutions are best for your district, they no longer need to reside on your premises.

Today’s offerings, from specific solutions to your entire networking infrastructure, can all be adopted in the same way you purchase electricity. Advantages include automatically gaining the latest features and functions without the time-consuming process of evaluating and applying updates, while eliminating the budget spikes associated with capital projects.

What’s more, the FCC is increasing support for operating expenses within the E-rate program, making as-a-service options even more attractive to districts.

Although we anticipate many districts will move to new networking models and adopt the most advanced infrastructure in response to the latest trends, we expect those recovering from natural disasters to lead the way. With a fresh start comes the flexibility to apply new IT strategies and technologies in service of education, providing all K-12 IT departments lessons to learn and apply.

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