Oct 13 2022

SD-WAN Allows K–12 Districts to Boost Network Agility

Software-defined wide area networks can help schools manage network bandwidth without making major infrastructure upgrades.

K–12 schools are increasingly relying on the cloud for everything from learning applications to infrastructure and networking. In a recent survey from the Consortium for School Networking, more than 90 percent of school district leaders reported using (or planning to use) a cloud-based learning management system such as Google Classroom.

However, with so much dependence on the cloud, bandwidth can quickly become an issue.

Chris Walton, senior solution architect for Extreme Networks, understands the challenges.

“Nobody can just flip a switch to solve bandwidth issues,” says Walton. “Many school districts have limited access to larger broadband WAN connections and struggle with this as they grow.”

EXPLORE: Learn more about the solutions Extreme Networks can provide for school districts.

SD-WAN Enables Dynamic Bandwidth Control in K–12 Schools

As more applications move to the cloud, SD-WAN helps K–12 IT leaders better manage the bandwidth they already have, while increasing agility.

“A lot of state testing is now done via Software as a Service applications,” Walton says. A big testing day “can put a lot of strain on a school network, especially in schools that don’t have large WAN links. An SD-WAN solution can give students the best experience possible because IT staff can set controls that assign higher priorities to a specific application.”

This means that during the test, administrators can ensure the testing application has all the bandwidth it needs to operate smoothly, deprioritizing other applications that aren’t as necessary.

SD-WAN controls typically include features like dynamic WAN selection, failover and load balancing over multiple WAN links, plus enhanced security. Extreme’s SD-WAN solution allows IT staff to both visualize and dynamically control the performance of all cloud-based applications, even overcoming constraints in networks that have limited WAN connection speeds.

“Once the technology is in place, staff members can set up objectives and custom-build a solution that is as granular or broad as they want,” says Walton. “All devices and applications can be onboarded, and everything can be orchestrated from a cloud-based app.”

Click the banner to discover networking resources and advice for your K–12 district.

Assess Network Infrastructure and Traffic Before Moving to SD-WAN

SD-WAN is configured as an overlay to existing WAN hardware. Extreme’s solution is completely managed in the cloud, so there’s no need to manage or maintain a server onsite. There are small appliances at each location, but they are included as part of the subscription model.

Before selecting an SD-WAN solution, it’s important to have a general sense of how a location’s network is currently configured.

“Ideally, in addition to understanding their network infrastructure, IT professionals should know how applications are being used within their networks and how those applications are being constrained, or how access to those applications is constraining the rest of the network,” Walton says.

While this can often be difficult to assess, Extreme’s solution can help IT staff visualize network traffic and any hurdles that might be hindering performance.

“We offer a deep and detailed view of application use on a network — both ingress and egress,” Walton says. “In fact, on many networks, we can set up our SD-WAN solution in pass-through mode, which is nonintrusive but allows that full visibility and insight into how the network is being used so decisions can be made to address potential issues.”

DISCOVER: Network overhauls increased security, speed and control for these small IT teams.

That visibility can be “revelatory” to some customers, he adds.

“Typically, you can see that level of detail in LAN but not in WAN,” he says. “It gives you the ability to quickly see what’s going on, and, if there are problems, immediately flag certain applications so they get higher priority when needed.”

Scale SD-WAN with Cloud and Network Needs

The beauty of an SD-WAN solution is that it can help determine whether schools need to upgrade their bandwidth.

“Once customers gain visibility and understand how the network is being used, they may find that they don’t even need the size of the WAN connection they’re paying for,” says Walton. “Instead of throwing a bigger hose at the bandwidth issue, they are able to use what they have more efficiently.”

Extreme’s SD-WAN solution also grows with organizations as their needs change and they depend more on the cloud for their application needs.

“Because of our Application Control Experience Quality Score and ability to adjust performance based on application types and application groupings, many times this is simply done without any hardware upgrades,” says Walton. “If a school grows to the point where a different hardware edge appliance is needed, they can upgrade without purchasing new hardware by using our subscription-based solution.”

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