Schools Turn to Bandwidth Management to Handle the Surge of Mobile Demand
IT staff at Charlotte County Public Schools in Port Charlotte, Fla., had two main reasons for optimizing the district’s networks.
A few years ago, the state of Florida began requiring districts to administer online tests, so the district needed a way to prioritize bandwidth when students were taking the exams, says Chris Bress, executive director of the district’s Learning Through Technology & Media department.
The second reason was simply what Bress describes as the “doubling, tripling or even quadrupling” of devices Charlotte County students, teachers and administrators were bringing to school. “In a perfect world, you could say that bandwidth is cheap and we could just throw bandwidth at the problem,” he says. “But as a school district with limited resources, we have to work smarter.”
A Three-Pronged Mobile Optimization Strategy
Bress and his team developed a three-pronged strategy that includes Exinda appliances in the data center for traffic prioritization, open-source caching servers at each of the district’s 20 buildings and a content filtering system to keep the traffic secure.
“The Exinda devices prioritize traffic at the head end, which lets us do things like cache large video files locally,” Bress explains, noting that the district caches close to 50 percent of its traffic locally. “Instead of having a 150-megabyte video file travel over the network 30 times to service 30 computers, it travels over the network once, is cached locally and the 30 users get a much better response time.”
The percentage of IT managers who say WAN optimization is a priority
SOURCE: “The Evolving State of the Network” (Enterprise Strategy Group, December 2013)
Now that the district has a bandwidth management strategy in place, Bress will plan for more density in its wireless network. “As more devices come on to the network, our 802.11n system will be insufficient,” he says.
Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says more IT organizations must factor in mobility as they move forward with their bandwidth management strategies.
“As workplaces become more mobile, IT managers will be asking many of the same questions as before, such as ‘How can we optimize the network and reduce operational costs?’” Laliberte says. “Only during this era, we will also have to look at applications people are running on their smartphones and tablets.”
BYOD on the Bayou
Rickey Jones, network manager for Caddo Parish Public Schools in Shreveport, La., supports 39,000 students and 6,000 employees across 65 locations. The network now handles more than 20,000 devices, a figure that’s growing every day due to burgeoning bring-your-own-device initiatives.
Jones uses the native bandwidth shapers built into the district’s Cisco Systems switches to prioritize traffic, as well as local caching servers when the district runs online tests to comply with state requirements. “In addition to Cisco’s IOS traffic shaping and QoS policies, the only extra device we use is the Cisco IronPort Web Security Appliance to prioritize traffic at the network’s edge,” he adds.
Three Tips for the Mobile WAN
Organizations seeking to assess the impact of mobility on WAN bandwidth should heed these three recommendations from Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group:
Identify what runs over the WAN. Start by understanding how people are using applications across the WAN. Put the appropriate monitoring tools in place so that, as the number of employee-owned devices in the organization rises, the IT staff can better understand how that affects the network and production apps.
Leverage hybrid networks. As devices proliferate, organizations that use only dedicated or leased lines may reduce costs by using Internet connections only as backups. Most WAN optimization products can manage multiple links and provide QoS and failover protection.
Prioritize critical apps. Enact policies to restrict the use of nonproduction applications to keep all web and video apps that are run on smartphones and tablets from flooding the network.