Downtime Is Not an Option for Thousands Accessing School Networks
But for some districts, network solutions are just the beginning of better connectivity.
“It’s more than just a network,” says CoSN COO Robert Duke. “There are a lot of other moving pieces.” He says districts also need adequate staffing, planning and device sustainability, not to mention funding and strategies to address digital equity.
In summer 2019, Price took all these moving pieces into consideration as he looked to modernize the district’s network. Equipment was a hodgepodge, switches were at the end of life, coverage was spotty, and staffers had no easy way to monitor, control or troubleshoot network challenges.
The district was preparing for a one-to-one Chromebook deployment that Price knew the old network couldn’t handle. “It would have been a nightmare trying to maintain and provide the coverage that was needed,” he says.
The district also needed a solution that eased network management. Eight people make up the IT department, but only one focuses on the network. Plus, troubleshooting, such as fixing devices that couldn’t connect, had become an ordeal.
With partial funding from E-rate, the district implemented Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs), Series 2930F and 3810 switches, and Aruba Central. With multi-gig switches and 1-gigabyte speeds for each school, supporting those 9,000 devices is a breeze.
That became crucial in fall 2020, when in-person learning resumed and students brought their new Chromebooks to campus. IT staffers stress-tested the network to be sure it could handle the influx, but they needn’t have worried, says Price: “It was seamless.”
That’s also how IT Systems Specialist Brendan Lovelady describes network management, thanks to Aruba Central’s single pane of glass and the artificial intelligence that monitors usage for hot spots and areas needing more Wi-Fi capacity.
Vestavia Hills deployed Aruba ClearPass, which delivers role- and device-based secure network access control, after the rest of the upgrade was complete. It provides granular control — preventing devices from connecting if they lack proper security patches, for instance — and segmentation, ensuring user groups can access only the network areas they need to.
How Pflugerville ISD Found the Right Vendor for Its Networking Needs
Pflugerville ISD evaluated vendors in a “bake-off,” inviting companies onsite for timed demonstrations of their solutions. The idea was to see how long it took to load the software, set up and configure the tools, and operate within the district’s environment.
It was important to know “how it functions when you come into our data center and have us put it through the wringer,” says Victor Valdez, chief technology and operations officer for the district.
His staffers also noted the skill and certification levels of vendors’ teams to be sure their results would translate for the IT department.