When wireless notebooks, tablets and smartphones rule the school, it’s clear that IT managers must consider mobility when optimizing the network.
“When we optimize, it’s for mobile WAN traffic,” says Gabriel Gador, senior network/systems engineer for La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego. “Most of the traffic that routes through the network is mobile.”
Gador adopted Exinda’s WAN Optimization Controllers to manage the school’s existing IT infrastructure, much of which is based on Aruba Networks wireless controllers and access points. When it comes to bandwidth usage, he says the Exinda optimization appliance helps the school live within its means.
Before the 2011 Wi-Fi upgrade, the school’s bandwidth pipe from its ISP was only 6 megabits per second. As part of the rollout, the school increased the pipe to 100Mbps. But despite the more than tenfold increase, users complained that the network was slow. After using the Exinda appliance’s reporting capabilities, Gador discovered that most of the bandwidth was being consumed by guests who were running streaming media apps such as YouTube.
The Exinda appliance enables Gador to prioritize bandwidth usage, which he mainly dedicates to the school’s email traffic and web-based learning management system.
“I grew concerned that there was no end in sight to how much bandwidth an organization can use,” Gador notes. “We needed a way to manage our bandwidth more efficiently and have a reasonable assurance that we can hold the line.”
While it’s possible that the school may add bandwidth next year, it won’t be a dramatic change. “When we do increase the pipe, I’m confident that I am able to better manage it than in the past,” he says. “Optimization helps us save thousands of dollars a year.”
Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, recommends that schools proactively seek out WAN optimization tools. “Instead of deploying WAN optimization tools to solve specific problems, we’d like to see more organizations deploy these products as a best practice,” he says. “The great thing about the La Jolla environment is that once they had visibility into the network, they were able to set specific policies around bandwidth usage to ensure that critical apps performed well.”
WAN Optimization to Support STEM-Based Learning
Following the deployment of Cisco Meraki’s cloud-based wireless system, the Bremerton School District in Washington rolled out tablets to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in its middle and high schools.
Steve Bartlett, technology services supervisor, anticipates that as the district adds tablets, it will need to pay closer attention to WAN bandwidth.
“It will be interesting to see the impact of the tablets on the network because many of the science and math applications are graphics-intensive,” Bartlett says. “That’s why our strategy is to roll out a few carts at a time. As we add more tablets we’ll probably need to enable the WAN optimization feature in the edge switches.”
3 Considerations for Mobile WAN Optimization
As wireless devices proliferate in schools, IT departments need to develop a strategy to manage bandwidth for mobile applications. Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst Mark Fabbi offers three considerations for IT managers seeking to optimize mobile traffic.
- Identify which applications are mission-critical. Figure out which apps bog down the network or degrade user productivity. Start by developing a priority list of the mobile applications that are absolutely needed to improve performance.
- Determine the type of users involved. Does the district need a product that can manage traffic for users in other school buildings or for those who are mainly at home using a notebook computer? Or perhaps there’s a mix of tablets, smartphones and notebooks. The answers to these questions will determine which product manufacturer the organization chooses.
- Perform a proof of concept. Understand that mobile WAN optimization offers some important gains, but it may not deliver the complete benefits IT departments see with traditional WAN optimization devices. Once the IT staff comes up with a list of priority applications, conduct real-world tests to determine if mobile WAN optimization improves performance enough to justify the investment.