New Tools for New Networks

For many districts, the networks and technological infrastructures that have evolved over time are not readily expandable to meet the demands of digital transformation.

These networks may have started as low-bandwidth connections to allow school administrators and teachers to connect to the district Intranet. Then they may have grown with the addition of a computer lab sized to support a full class of students using computers at once. The networks may have originally been used primarily to support Enterprise-type applications that require high security such as Student Information Systems, Payroll, and e-mail, then expanded to provide Internet research capabilities for the lab. Student to computer ratios may have begun at around 1:10.

When these networks were built, the low number of computers and occasional usage meant that low bandwidth connections were adequate. Because instruction didn’t depend on computers at all, except for the occasional computer lab day, network outages were inconvenient, not crippling.

However, when a district commits to a 1:1 or BYOD implementation, the demands on these networks start to grow non-linearly, and simply trying to add capacity where and when they break may be the least efficient and least cost-effective way to proceed, particularly for districts of substantial size.

The new demands on networks require a careful rethinking of the districts overall approach to network architecture and build-out. When the demand was small, it was possible to think of WiFi as an add-on to wired Internet, security as an add-on to the district data center, or the Internet connection as a commodity to be purchased from whichever provider could bring it to the district door. With the demands growing exponentially over the period of the district technology plan, all of the elements of network design need to be considered holistically, with careful decisions and tradeoffs that start with an understanding of the most cost-effective approaches to connecting every student to the Internet.

In support of districts beginning this digital transition, CoSN's SEND initiative has developed a set of resources that provide rules of thumb for anticipating the demands on future networks and developing a holistic plan for addressing them. These resources include:

  • Discussion of the five key network design elements for a digital transformation: Setting performance targets, defining cloud / on-premise strategy, investigating aggregation, designing for the future, and evolving the network.
  • Brief, candid video testimonials and insights from district and state technology leaders who are implementing 1:1 or BYOD mobile learning.
  • White paper that identifies and describes best practices and the process for Wi-Fi implementation in schools.

All resources can be found at the newly released Performance Design Guide.