Jan 19 2024

Getting to a Single Pane of Glass for K–12 Network Management

New vendor offerings, deployment models and security requirements drive IT leaders to reconsider unified network management solutions in education.

Centralized management of every network component is a dream for all network managers. The famous “single pane of glass” (so named back when displays had actual glass in them) for configuration, security, monitoring, troubleshooting and reporting promised to reduce the effort spent on network management, shorten the time to resolve problems and give a global overview of traffic throughout a network.

In environments like K–12 schools, where network teams are perennially understaffed and overworked, a unified management platform can be the critical force multiplier needed to keep the network secure and running smoothly.

DIVE DEEPER: Tech leaders say network upgrades enhance the learning experience.

What happened to the single-pane-of-glass dream, and how can we get there?

Single-Pane-of-Glass Solutions Become More Feasible for K–12 

One of the reasons many K–12 IT teams don’t have unified management systems is that most networks have grown organically: the LAN, wireless network, WAN, firewalls and other middleboxes all were added and upgraded as needed. While most network managers try to stick with a single vendor in each area, picking best-of-breed products usually meant that security came from a different vendor than wireless did, for example.

Prioritizing product features over brand conformity for every network update has relaxed in the past few years. Core network infrastructure has become strongly commoditized, and there are fewer important differences for schools’ network teams. Network managers can get most of their critical equipment from a single supplier without compromising features or quality in any area significant to the K–12 environment.

While single-vendor networks are not required for single-pane-of-glass management, they certainly make things simpler.

Click the banner to learn how networks lay the foundation for success in K–12 environments.

If your wireless, firewall and switch devices all come from the same vendor, it’s much easier to use that vendor’s management platform to configure and monitor those devices with the same tool. While there are still many multi-vendor networks, IT teams are increasingly finding that the benefits of having a single vendor for the three major areas — wireless, LAN and network security — can justify consolidation during upgrade and refresh cycles.

New Deployment Tools Lead to Shifts in K–12 Network Management

A second development in unified network management is the shift to different deployment models for network management tools. This isn’t just moving the on-premises software to a cloud-based Infrastructure as a Service provider, but a shift of management tools from a locally run application to a Software as a Service (SaaS) product or a dedicated network management appliance.

There are also exciting developments in orchestration and DevOps that are bringing unified configuration to the data center for K–12 organizations and other industries, delivering improved technology for multi-vendor network management.

In the past, running any comprehensive network management tool locally meant bringing a lot of resources to the table: multiple servers, big databases and the staff to keep all the software current, secure and running smoothly.

Today, many network hardware vendors are also offering SaaS and appliance options. These options are especially attractive to K–12 IT teams because they eliminate the burden of hosting the network management tools, and they ensure that updates and upgrades are performed in a timely manner.

Midsize networks, like those in K–12 schools, are a great fit for cloud-based and appliance-based management tools.

KEEP READING: Accelerate K–12 digital transformation through the network.

Single-Pane-of-Glass Solutions Support Compliance and Security

K–12 networks have grown from a few computers in a lab to universal Wi-Fi. Today, there’s an expectation that internet and school server access will be available whenever and wherever the learning calls for it. Couple that with increasing compliance requirements and a push for zero-trust environments in schools, and you’ve significantly raised the bar for network management.

As security is tightened and configurations are more carefully controlled, IT teams work to reduce human error and ensure that any network breach can be quickly identified and remedied.

These needs help steer IT managers toward unified management for network infrastructure and security components. Single-pane-of-glass management tools make it easy to push configurations to dozens or hundreds of devices in a few minutes, either for scheduled maintenance or for emergency changes. Having a single tool for multiple devices dramatically reduces the risk of inconsistent configuration — a gap in the network armor that can let intruders get a foothold.

K–12 network managers who have rejected unified network management in the past should re-evaluate the state-of-the-art options available. Network and security technology, best-practices architectures and vendor offerings have all shifted significantly in a direction that brings the elusive single-pane-of-glass management within close reach.

UP NEXT: K–12 schools share their journeys to Wi-Fi 6.

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