Usage is so prevalent now that the district changed its policy from acceptable use to responsible use because typical "banned" applications such as YouTube are now considered necessary learning platforms. "With resources like YouTube blocked, we were taking away a lot of desirable instructional options. However, allowing them does bump up bandwidth usage," Mitchell says.
Once IT had a firm grasp on usage, it upgraded access points to 802.11n. In re-evaluating coverage, the team determined they needed 15% more access points throughout the district. The district plans to double the capacity of wireless networks in all schools by the spring of 2015.
Coverage and density remain constant bugaboos. For instance, IT initially determined the front office, which is populated by desk workers, didn't need an access point. However, principals and other staffers did need to use mobile devices, so IT had to install a small access point array. Also, users regularly call the help desk to report dead zones, and delivering service to those areas requires the relocation, reconfiguration or addition of access points.
Mitchell's next project is to replace districtwide LANs to support eventual gigabit connectivity. "You have to make sure you're not building out a wireless infrastructure that passes traffic to a network core that wasn't designed to handle the load," he says.
He is less concerned about the pipes between buildings — there are two 1Gbps connections from multiple providers — and Internet connectivity, which he boosted to three circuits, again from multiple providers, after the outage. "We have created a fully meshed network that can support disaster recovery," he says. Everyone is excited about being wireless pioneers, but they have no tolerance of downtime. "It gets ugly if we have outages," Mitchell says.
Though there is talk of building an all-wireless infrastructure, Mitchell is skeptical. "We build these schools with so much concrete and steel, you'd have issues where the signal won't bounce around and penetrate like you'd need it to. Also, in any K-12 educational environment, you still need a wired network that is safe and secure and ensures that sensitive student information is kept in-house, he says.
He has also learned that boosting bandwidth and swapping out hardware and software requires a review of the applications that use the network. For one, developers have to be cognizant of the responsive design they use for mobile or cloud applications, taking into consideration, among other factors, bandwidth constraints.
Mitchell advises his peers to focus on the mission and not the minutiae, which can become overwhelming. "Our goal is to accelerate our transition to a completely digital learning environment for students," he says. "And for that, IT has to be ready with a scalable wireless and wired solution."
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