The meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets combined with the transition from desktop computers to laptops are putting substantial strain on Wi-Fi networks at today’s school districts. Not only are more devices connecting to these networks but students and faculty expect to remain always on and are increasingly streaming media and other high bandwidth applications in classrooms.
With the new funding for E-rate making the news, school districts are looking to take advantage of this program to build out a world class wireless network for their students and staff.
The demand for more bandwidth, more real-time multimedia and access to e-textbooks and educational applications, such as Moodle and Blackboard, all via Wi-Fi, means that any drop in performance is immediately noticeable by users. In addition, as schools migrate from a primarily wired infrastructure to a wireless one, the growth in devices on the network also highlights a need for additional security.
IT staff at school districts have been trying to keep up with user needs and expectations but the requirements are evolving fast. Today’s IT needs to be faster, more nimble, handle many devices, provide tighter security, scale quickly and be cost effective. To achieve this, a new approach needs to be taken to the problem.
The traditional Wi-Fi architecture has been based upon a controller-based switch that becomes the central point of intelligence and control for all access points (AP’s). The controller becomes the choke point and bottleneck for the network, requiring IT to add more controllers as inevitably more users and devices come onto the network.
This traditional architecture has been replaced by a Cloud Wireless design where the controller is eliminated, with management annd control of the network virtualized in the cloud. This approach greatly increases the ability to scale the network to meet Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) demands, with the ability to support a factor of 10X more devices than before.
The Cloud Wireless approach has also opened up the possibility of educational institutions taking advantage of a managed and hosted service for their Wi-Fi network, offloading routine network management burden from their strapped IT staff.
With so many choices for today’s K-12 IT staff when it comes to their wireless network and mobility needs, there are several questions that come to mind:
• Should I opt for a hosted/managed service vs. managing it on-site?
• Should I go with 802.11n or 802.11ac?
• What kind of back-end switching network do I need?
• What kind of security do I need to ensure privacy mandates?
• And on and on the list goes…
We will dive into these issues in later posts. The key point is as IT managers wade through all the options to pick the right wireless solution for their situation, they need to ensure their network will be able to stand up to the demanding needs of their users.