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 task — configuration, security, monitoring, troubleshooting and reporting — is the dream of all network admins. The so-called “single pane of glass” (named when displays had actual glass in them) promises to reduce the effort spent on network management, shorten the time to resolve problems and give a global overview of traffic throughout the network.

In K–12 environments, 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.

So, how can you achieve the single-pane-of-glass dream?

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 their networks have grown organically: The LAN, wireless network, WAN, firewalls and other middleboxes have all been added and upgraded as needed. And while most network managers try to stick with a single vendor in each area, picking best-of-breed products for, say, security and wireless usually means that those technologies will come from different vendors.

Prioritizing product features over brand conformity for every network update has relaxed in the past few years. Core network infrastructure has become largely 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 multi-vendor networks still exist, IT teams are increasingly finding that the benefits of having a single vendor for the three major network components — wireless, LAN and network security — 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. Beyond just moving the on-premises software to the cloud, this is a shift away from locally run applications to Software as a Service products or a dedicated network management appliance.

Exciting developments in orchestration and DevOps are also 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 enough staff to keep the software updated, secure and running smoothly.

Today, many network hardware vendors are also offering SaaS and dedicated appliance options. These 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

Over the years, 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 it's needed for teaching and learning. 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 they tighten security and carefully control their network configurations, IT teams work to reduce human error and ensure that any network breach can be quickly identified and remedied.

These needs also 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 just 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 give intruders a foothold.

K–12 network managers who have eschewed unified network management in the past should re-evaluate the state-of-the-art options available. Today's network and security technology, best-practices architectures and vendor offerings have all evolved to bring the elusive single pane of glass within close reach.

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

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