A few weeks ago one of my sons got a new Chromebook at school. The old one had been around for a few years and was rather outdated in terms of the technology. The new version has a touch screen and can be used as a laptop or tablet. Not exactly new to anyone in the tech world, but for a kid it’s pretty exciting. From the school’s perspective, it was clearly time to replace aging hardware and take advantage of the latest technology innovations for learning. In other words, the school had a plan.
Schools and libraries applying for E-rate funds also need to have a plan. I’m not talking about figuring out who is going to complete and file Form 470 and when it should be submitted. This is about understanding your current network infrastructure and how you will use the funds to build a better, faster version that delivers on new initiatives over the next few years. When you’re building out your plan, here are three things you should consider.
- Look ahead three to five years. Considering how fast technology changes, three years will keep you on top of new developments although five years is more practical from a cost perspective. E-rate Category 2 services such as firewalls, routers, switches and access points continue to evolve rapidly with new features and faster speeds. For example, today’s firewalls can block threats such as ransomware that the previous generation can’t, and those legacy firewalls are only a few years old.
- Don’t let hardware slow you down. The use of online learning in the classroom continues to grow. So too does the use of bandwidth-intensive apps. When evaluating products that will go into your infrastructure, understand how much of your current capacity is being used. Then buffer that by 20% to 30% to plan for future growth. Just as important, make sure any hardware you look at can handle the increase in bandwidth. Otherwise it can become a bottleneck in the network.
- Let someone else manage security for you. Something that schools and libraries may not be aware of is that they can outsource security as a Managed Internal Broadband Service within Category 2. This covers services provided by a third party for the operation, management, and monitoring of eligible broadband internal connections components. The good news with this approach is that you won’t incur any upfront capital expenditures, you typically pay a low monthly subscription fee and you have a predictable annual expense model.
School IT directors are frequently tasked with implementing initiatives that help enhance learning in classrooms and across school districts. Often, however, they have to say “No” due to security risks that opening the network poses. So how can IT become a “Department of YES”? When building your plan, look for E-rate eligible products that support initiatives such as secure access to resources, mobility, moving to the cloud, compliance and others. If the products you’re considering can’t enable these securely, then you don’t want to spend your valuable E-rate dollars on them. To learn more about E-rate and how it can be used to purchase eligible security products for your network, read my earlier blog on the topic.
For some schools building and maintaining a security infrastructure isn’t something they can or want to take on. If that’s case for your school or district, SonicWall Security-as-a-Service may be the answer. We’ll connect you with a SonicWall-certified partner who’s experienced at installing, configuring and managing a network security infrastructure.
To learn more about SonicWall and E-rate, read our white paper titled, “Technical Considerations for K-12 Education Network Security.”