Digital demands from students and staff to keep pace with modern education methods have put a lot of pressure on IT operations. Consistently delivering quality service for all is a tall order. Technology advancements, IoT proliferation, device demand, lower cost, and ease of wireless access mean supporting all the things is the job facing education network administrators.
“The number of Wi-Fi devices, and the types of devices that students bring to a university or college campus, are exploding. Students commonly have three or more devices—smartphone, tablet, laptop, gaming device, or streaming media player—and expect flawless connectivity. In addition, higher education is deploying wireless IP phones for better communications, IP video cameras to enhance physical security, and sensors for a more efficient environment. The projections for the Internet of Things, which will connect hundreds of billions of devices in a few short years, are nothing short of staggering.” – Juniper Networks
…don’t fix it
Oftentimes, the approach to network maintenance is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And rightfully so. Even the smallest of network changes can have a big impact. Most education IT administrators understand this from experience. So when the network is operating, but, say, service is degraded at peak times, it often becomes something you just deal with as a fact of life.
But good news! It doesn’t have to be this way. Coming at these seemingly insurmountable tasks with small, thoughtful steps can help make it a lot more manageable. Performance, reliability, and security are the gold standards for any school’s digital network. But is it really as easy as it sounds? With insight, planning, and the right resources, it could be.
We’ve put together these top 3 recommendations to help education network administrators discover, design, and implement better practices for managing the network.
1. Understand the limits of your existing network
Good networks come from good planning. Having a proactive plan in place will help administrators get a picture of current requirements and overall network health, and help them design for future needs.
Important processes, like hardware lifecycle monitoring and task automation, can provide both time savings and the ability to create and maintain roadmaps for hardware replacement—which aid in the budgeting process and create a reliable path to upgrade your systems.
- It can be overwhelming to network admins when there are too many unknowns. Shed some light on your network with a solid network assessment. Conducting regular network scans to map and document existing network infrastructure will help true up any internal flaws that may be degrading performance, especially at peak times of use. Along with those network scans, you’ll gain deeper knowledge about standardizing devices that live on the network.
- Maintaining documentation of your network infrastructure will also help establish awareness of your device lifecycle. This provides administrators an edge with future budget planning. There is peace of mind when there are no surprises.
- Working on-prem? Here’s a tip: Perform a site survey of the campus to understand any RF (radio frequency) challenges. As you know, education networks are heavily mobile. This kind of surveying will help administrators determine better access point placement and the need for any additional controllers. This also contributes to uncovering existing port use which in turn, helps to easily update network design and document for future growth.
Any school network administrator should strive to have a well-documented network. Taking these preemptive steps to uncover the unknowns of the network can be ‘icing on the gravy’ as most network monitoring and management tools make it super easy to automate this daunting documentation task. From keeping a real-time, dynamic network map at your fingers, to having an always up-to-date device inventory, the right software can not only save time, but give you peace of mind your critical data is never out of step with the network performance you measure.
2. Deliver high-performance access and reliability while maintaining the budget
As you’re likely very aware in 2022, the explosion of SaaS-based applications for virtual teaching models, expanded device support per student, and the onset of remote programs launched due to Covid-19, has made performance and high availability mission-critical to the school network. Meeting these new challenges means expanding the network in most cases. But as we all know, education budgets are usually already constrained, and adding resources seem to expand faster than the funding ever does:
“44% of education institutions are increasing their IT budgets in 2021 compared to 2020, while 36% of education IT budgets are remaining the same, and 20% are decreasing. The shift to remote teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic forced education institutions to rapidly adjust their IT budgets and invest heavily in technology to enable digital operations.”-IDC
We could just call this section, “doing more with less.” At least we all understand that phrase.
Want to deliver a high-performing network without more budget? Consider these ideas:
- Simplify your network. Are there areas where cloud and virtual architectures in a hybrid approach could apply? It may offer added flexibility and agility.
- Review the WLAN infrastructure. Maybe it’s time to incorporate an SDN controller? Is the network meeting the influx of demands caused by devices joining the network? Are devices getting their share as they come on and off?
- Look to remove outdated hardware, and standardize network devices like switches and routers over time as the budget will allow.
- Analyze security at every level of the network, not just at the firewall. Security is king, and with increased hack attempts on school networks protecting the student and enterprise data is top of mind when planning network initiatives.
- Don’t discount the efficiency of tools used by the IT department. Time is money. If administrators are viewing and monitoring disparate network architecture using multiple tools to troubleshoot, or have limited access because of budget constraints, this hinders the ability to quickly resolve issues
3. Offer in-depth security
Ransomware is up, and the education sector is a big target. Just look at some key findings discovered and reported in Sophos’ The State of Ransomware in Education 2021:
- 44% of institutions were hit by ransomware in the last year
- 58% of those said the cybercriminals succeeded in encrypting their data
- 35% of victims paid the ransom to get their data back
- The average ransom payment was $112,435
Sadly, those who paid the ransom got back just 68% of their data on average, leaving almost a third of the data inaccessible. The total bill for rectifying a ransomware attack in the education sector, considering downtime, people time, device cost, network cost, lost opportunity, ransom paid, and more, was, on average, US$2.73 million – the highest across all sectors surveyed.
Going beyond the firewall
In-depth security measures will require educational organizations to put a lot of effort into effectively protecting their students’ personal data and achieving IT compliance. Using a layered approach will be critical to the ease of supporting and educating users about helping to protect the network.
- Physical. It’s true, humans are the weakest link when it comes to the security of data.
- Perimeter. It will be important to plan for, implement and maintain endpoint monitoring solutions, antivirus software, encryption methods, and BYOD policies.
- Network. Compartmentalize your users and devices. Provide network access and application resources to users and devices that are only 100% necessary to get the job done.
- Endpoint. Ensure IT tools used are performing at peak levels to provide insight, document, ease of use, and can identify root cause when issues do arise.
- Application. Look to identify gaps where not upgrading is holding security back.
- Data. This is the gold in any organization and 100% of the target when it comes to cybercrime, so protecting it is imperative.
- Mission Critical. Understanding assets that are mission-critical to the organization, implementing backup, and redundancy of those assets should be of mission-critical priority.
Peace of mind. There is nothing else like it. And when you’ve planned well, taken decisive action to document, close gaps, review policies, standardize devices, incorporate better data privacy and cybersecurity awareness for users, you can rest easier.
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