Bring Your Own (BYO) programs, the latest tablet technology or possibly Software Defined Networking (SDN) are all topics that are ‘flavor of the month’ and ones that technologists are expected to be familiar with and provide guidance about.
While these technologies are all quite exciting, none of them can be delivered or supported without reliable connectivity that meets the demands of the applications or systems that are in use within an environment. And for many, the only time any thought is given to technology is when things don’t work as expected.
The plumbing within your home analogy serves as a good analogy to help put this situation into context. Most people don’t give their plumbing a second thought. They take it for granted that water is delivered and waste is carried away and the only time plumbing is even thought of is when it doesn’t work. When it comes to plumbing, the things that people care about are the vanity or flash tapware and so on. These things are the applications of the technology world – the Learning Management System or the new Unified Communications System.
When it comes to plumbing ‘not working’, it is often not as simple as binary or boolean – meaning it is not simply ‘on’ or ‘off’. The water pressure could be lower than expected or possibly the hot water tap for the washing machine is simply not working. While these things are inconvenient, they are problems that still allow the sink or washing machine to be used.
Similarly, people often complain that their network ‘doesn’t work’ or ‘is down’ when the reality is that it is the application that the users are trying to access that is not working due to some kind of problem with either the application or the underlying network. In many cases, it may be that it is not that the network is not working at all, it is just not working well enough to support the applications that require or rely on it.
While it is not sexy, deploying connectivity the right way, can help deliver savings to a facility – both in terms of initial capital expenditure, and the operational expenditure associated with ongoing management and maintenance of a network or networks. Other costs that are not often considered include lost productivity of staff and students, because they are unable to work effectively, and time lost looking for alternate ways to do the thing they need to do.
Deploying connectivity the right way also ensures that you have a platform that can scale and support future systems and services – those systems and services that will be required to deliver the performance improvements and cost savings that will be necessary in the short to medium term future.
The Education Environment
The last thing on the minds of many technologists and business managers is the network and other similar infrastructure. Topics of concern or interest are more likely focus on:
- Delivering an environment that can support staff and students in achieving their desired learning outcomes;
- Ensuring staff and students have a safe place to work and learn;
- Improving efficiency or doing with more with less; and
- Differentiating your school from similar schools in the area.
Technology can have a significant impact on the above as well as many other aspects of education. Let’s explore these in more details.
Over the last few decades, the education sector has witnessed many evolutions or revolutions in technology. Some have been a flash in the pan, while others have been significant and enduring – like Ethernet.
Other concepts or technologies which remain topical and relevant to the area of connectivity at the moment include:
- Bring Your Own Device (or technology, or some such similar thing)
- Gigabit Wireless
- Software Defined Networking
While there are many other technologies that may be relevant and possibly more interesting, the above technologies relate directly to the field of networking and communications and can have a significant impact on the costs associated with deployment and management of infrastructure and the performance of applications and systems that rely on that infrastructure.
IPv6 The Next Generation
In days gone by, ‘systems’ used their own proprietary protocols for communication with other elements of a system. Even today, you may find some legacy systems that still use proprietary protocols for communication. It is more likely, however, that systems and applications use IP or the Internet Protocol. IP is a protocol, or a language, that enables devices to communicate with each other. The thing that makes IP unique is that it is a standard or ‘common language’ that has been adopted by the IT Industry for developing communication within and between systems. In addition to enabling communication between systems, IP has also enabled us to create a common infrastructure that we can use to communicate with devices.
It is important to note that IP is still evolving. One of the challenges of the current version of IP is that the address space – the number of addresses you can have – has been exhausted. While IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) with its all but limitless address space has been available for many years, its deployment has been slow as there has been no incentive for organisations to migrate from IPv4 to IPv6. With the exhaustion of IPv4 address space, the momentum behind IPv6 is now growing and it is important that schools have a strategy for moving to IPv6. Doing nothing is not a strategy.
If your school has not given though to how it might make the switch to IPv6, now is the time. At the same time, consideration should be given to deploying a common or ‘converged’ network for all the applications you school uses. This should include not only applications that are in use today such as network storage, wireless networks, security and voice communications, but also other applications that you might wish to use in the future. Of course, this also requires that you give some though to the future development of your school’s IT plan.
The Benefits Of Convergence
When the word ‘convergence’ is mentioned, most consider this to mean running voice over a data network. In reality, delivering a truly converged or unified network is not that hard, yet many institutions still fail in this goal. True convergence delivers many benefits, particularly in terms of flexibility and scalability, but also in terms of efficiency.
True convergence means having a single network for all applications. Applications include wireless for BYO programs, the administration network, the voice network and other applications like storage and physical security. While developing a unified network is not that hard, many schools still run separate disparate networks for each application or service.
Moving to a common network infrastructure for all applications and services delivers improvements in operational expenditure, as there is only a single, unified infrastructure to manage. Other benefits can be realised through building in the flexibility to deliver new applications and technology in the future.
Applications Of The Future
Examples of such future applications which may be just around the corner include Intelligent or Power Over Ethernet (POE) powered lighting systems. Today, electrical installations require expensive cabling to be installed by highly qualified and heavily regulated electricians. The move from incandescent and fluorescent lighting technology to LED technology at the same time as the power available from networks has increased from 15W to 30W (to 60W soon) per port, means that it is now possible to power lighting systems using POE rather than traditionally powered lighting systems.
While it is expected the deployment of a POE powered or intelligent lighting system will be less (in terms of cost) than a traditional lighting system, the real benefits come from the intelligence that can be integrated into these systems. Sensors built into the lights themselves will be able to detect motion using ‘follow me’ technology. This technology will maximise the lighting available where a room or area is occupied while saving energy when lighting is not required. Similarly, through the ability to sense the ambient light level, lighting can be optimised so that greater light is delivered on a dark winter day to a clear spring day.
Intelligent lighting systems are an example of an application of the future that will be enabled through a converged or unified network. There are likely to be many others yet to be conceived of.
Staff and student safety is important. Bullying is a big issue and cyber-bullying can be reduced using a smart network that can understand and block certain types of traffic. Physical safety is also an issue and the use of surveillance can act as a deterrent to prevent incidents from occurring and also provide evidence as to what happened. Surveillance is also increasingly being used for Occupational Health and Safety reasons in many workplaces to either identify what occurred or in some instances, to prove that something didn’t occur.
A converged network enables the flexible deployment of cameras in key areas around a school, or to enable additional access points to be deployed to support BYO technology across the school. Having a converged or unified network also means that deploying new applications or services is not a complex task.
Most important of all, having technology that is robust and performs well will enable your school to differentiate itself from other schools around you. It will also enable you to improve efficiency, both in the way services are delivered, as well as achieving improvements in the costs associated with deployment and management of technology, enabling you to do more with less.
Furthermore, by building and deploying a single, unified infrastructure, you are best positioned to support whatever the next latest and greatest technology might be. Regardless of whether that is Smart Lighting Systems using POE or the next generation of bring your own technology – who knows what is around the corner.
The biggest challenge or obstacle is ensuring that both the Principal and the Technology Manager are both on the same page and value a strategic long term investment in technology.
Scott Penno is a Principal Evangelist and Asia Pacific Regional Marketing Manager for Allied Telesis, an information and technology services provider to the education sector. He can be contact at email@example.com.
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