With the popularity of mobile devices (laptops, phones and tablets) among students today, and their growing utility as a means of delivering educational outcomes, the IT infrastructure of many schools has struggled to accommodate the connectivity demands of such wide adoption. Digital learning is the new reality of the 21st century classroom.

As such, what once constituted a suitable WLAN network may now be unable to keep up with the amount of active connections, or application usage, typical of the modern online environment. The 1:1 ratio of one laptop per student has been superseded by the 1:1+ formula of many potential devices, depending upon which tool is most appropriate for any given task.

Schools may have noticed that, as new media-rich learning programs have been implemented, their networks may be showing the strain. This may manifest as delays in uploading or retrieving data; excessive buffering of streaming video resources; unreliable wireless signals subject to disconnection; or an inability to access databases or collaboration portals. Any or all of these issues are incredibly frustrating, and can be difficult to isolate and resolve.

ARUBA NETWORKS - DESIGNED FOR DENSITY

COMMON CAUSES OF NETWORK DEGRADATION

Managing device density can be complex, resulting in inadequate performance stemming from the following causes:

  • poor network design
  • multiple devices competing for limited network resources
  • higher data consumption typical of HD video streaming, collaboration platforms, and the uploading and transfer of large, locally generated files
  • devices required to constantly authenticate and sync
  • unauthorised traffic may be leaching bandwidth
  • new application behaviours mean the old 80/20 download to upload ratio no longer applies

Ensuring seamless connectivity involves a lot of moving parts, besides allowing for the required speed and throughput of the network. Security, onboarding, authentication, and access privileges all need to be considered. That’s where the right network hardware and smart management applications can help. We’ve covered these requirements in a previous discussion paper, but let’s briefly revisit how these issues can best be handled.

Aruba recommends that schools look to migrate their networks to the latest 802.11ac or Wave 2 standard. Besides offering throughput up to three times faster than existing wireless (delivering performance of up to 1.3Gbps), its capacity to handle more users and Wi-Fi devices with a single radio is vastly enhanced. Thanks to their improved antenna designs, deploying 802.11ac Access Points (APs) will also result in increased performance for legacy 802.11b/g/n hardware.

In 2014, for instance, North Sydney Boys High School rolled out seventy 802.11ac Instant Access Points across their existing 802.11n network, to immediate effect. Given the backwards-compatible nature of Wi-Fi standards, schools with budget constraints can still see tangible improvements by adopting 802.11ac, even without a wholesale replacement of their infrastructure. Aruba recommends schools plan for AP density to support at least 40-60 devices per unit (especially if such devices will be active simultaneously), and adequately evaluate whether one AP per classroom will be necessary.

Network performance can further be managed and improved via the application layer:

  • Aruba’s AirWave is the only multi-vendor network management tool providing granular visibility into your wired and wireless infrastructure, allowing you to monitor client behaviour, proactively troubleshoot application issues and plan for capacity.
  • ClientMatch provides a system-level view of WLAN performance to help get devices – and users – between APs faster and more reliably.

And the ClearPass suite: 

“Feedback to the new wireless solution has been very positive. Teachers have noticed an increase in reliability when streaming videos to their class. Classes with 30 students are now able to access the e-Learning platform, as well as simultaneously access media rich content without any degradation or bottlenecks,” 

-Yugendran Pillay, Head of IT, North Sydney Boys High School 
  • ClearPass Policy Manager Platform provides a simple way to manage consistent and secure access policies around users and device types, where privileges can be assigned around identity (since teachers clearly require access to different resources than students).
  • ClearPass Onboard facilitates easy authentication and onboarding for all users, and
  • ClearPass Guest makes visitor access easy and secure to manage with customisable portals.
  • ClearPass Exchange seamlessly ties together information from third-party security platforms, to adaptively ensure your network is protected from any threats.

MORE THAN THE SUM OF THEIR PARTS

Extracting the most value from today’s media-rich curriculum requires a solid IT foundation that supports the latest connectivity standards and utilises intelligent solutions to streamline and simplify your networks. Such a foundation offers greater operational efficiency, security, and oversight, allowing schools to focus on educational outcomes, instead of their IT infrastructure.

The solutions outlined above fulfil all the key requirements for handling any performance issues arising from device density, by providing rock-solid access regardless of the usage scenario. Better yet, with a little bit of planning and foresight, they can be deployed simply and quickly across any campus, regardless of size.

For more on how Aruba is helping redefine campus connectivity, click here.