That last link leads to an article written in 2012, but we forgive you if you thought it was written this year. We would also forgive you if you thought it was talking about your network, which leads us to the question: Is it time for you to start adding cloud-managed switches and access points to your network?
We can’t tell you whether or not the answer is yes or no, but we can help you figure it out through the questions in this post.
Questions To Ask Before Getting Cloud-Managed Solutions
- Can Your IT Budget Accommodate Cloud-Managed Solutions?
- What Kind of Growth Are You Expecting?
- What Steps Are You Taking To Meet Your Security And Compliance Standards?
- Do You Need More Network Flexibility?
- Are You Planning To Centralize Your Network?
1) Can Your IT Budget Accommodate Cloud-Managed Solutions?
It’s not hard to find an article talking about the constant shrinking of school budgets. Here’s one from 2016. Here’s a report from 2017. You might even have a message in your inbox about your IT budget being reduced this year.
Budgets are a big reason why many schools don’t adopt newer technologies like cloud-managed networks. Maybe it’s even the reason why you haven’t.
But as technology becomes more prevalent, it also becomes cheaper. Cloud-managed switches and access points are no different. Many of them come with flexible purchasing plans, including one or a combination of:
- Flat rate
One of the better options for schools is a combination of subscription and the pay-as-you-grow models. We’ve seen substantial success with it in multiple schools and universities already.
It allows you to add more bandwidth when you need it and provides a predictable cost benefit. Additionally, some cloud-managed network solutions work even if you don’t pay for the cloud. It’s not a fun solution to solve for, but it is an option nonetheless.
Even if you don’t want the cloud now, you could opt to buy the switches and access points you need now and then turn on the service later. But we don’t recommend that.
2) What Kind Of Growth Are You Expecting?
We probably don’t have to tell you that school enrollment numbers are expected to grow—again. You’ve probably already seen the impact of growth on your network.
School networks are being burdened further by BYOD programs many schools are implementing along with an increase in the amount of bandwidth needed to support them and other essential services.
In 2018, only 28 percent of schools had the required amount of bandwidth—at least 1 Mbps per student—needed for digital learning. And the bandwidth requirements are further complicated by other bandwidth needs, such as:
- VoIP Conferencing
- Webcasting and Audio/Video Instruction
- IP Surveillance
- Off-Campus Access Materials Access
- Remote/Distance Learning
One of the biggest pushes for increased bandwidth is remote learning. Roughly one out of every three students took at least one online class in 2015, and that number is expected to grow.
You don’t need cloud-managed solutions to add bandwidth to your network. Traditional switches and access points will work just fine. However, a cloud-managed network may help you future-proof your network so you’re not making more changes later on.
Future-proofing is one of the first things we look at when working with schools. The goal is to make sure any network improvements and solutions we implement today can handle the bandwidth needed in the future.
Cloud-managed networks give you the flexibility and simplicity to manage your network and divvy up the speed based on your requirements. While you could also implement some remote management features through software and a VPN, cloud networks will save you time and money in managing it.
Additionally, many cloud-managed solutions now offer zero-touch deployment (ZTD) or zero-touch provisioning (ZTP), which means setting up a new switch or adding bandwidth is as simple as powering them up and plugging in Ethernet. Everything else, including configuring settings, is done through the cloud, usually automatically.
3) What Steps Are You Taking To Meet Regulatory Compliance?
Between making it easier for staff, faculty, and students to share files and limiting who has access to what, meeting the regulatory compliance of your network is a tight balancing act.
You probably have systems in place now to help manage everyone’s access, but are they prepared for network growth and increased demand?
Odds are you already have a role-based access control feature in place. Cloud-managed networks can make this easier for you.
Since all of your switches and access points all run on the same cloud platform, adjusting your roles and privileges and applying network-wide updates is as simple as a couple of clicks.
Having role-based access control is just one step in that process, though. There are also security patches and firmware updates to worry about scheduling and implementing. But, again, a cloud-managed platform makes this easier.
Every update can be applied from one location—and by one person—if needed. You can also pick and choose which switches and access points you want to try them on first. You know, to make sure they won’t affect your network.
Once you’ve worked out any bugs, you can easily apply them to the rest of your network during the times that work best for you. That includes scheduling them for the times when you know nobody’s in an office or classroom.
4) Do You Need More Network Flexibility?
We’ve mentioned before that each student requires at least 1 Mbps of bandwidth for a 1:1 digital learning initiative. Maybe your school hasn’t adopted a digital learning initiative yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. More importantly, that doesn’t mean you won’t need more bandwidth even if you don’t.
When you consider many video streaming services need anywhere from 2 to 4 Mbps to stream in 720p, it’s possible that you’ll need even more than the recommended amount.
Adjusting the bandwidth needs of your network on the fly is easier when it’s all being done from one place, especially if your campus spans multiple buildings, streets, blocks, towns, or states.
Along with updating firmware and security from one location, you can also adjust your network on the fly to accommodate activities throughout the school, such as tests and video learning.
Not that you can’t do this through software or a VPN on your current network. You can. But, once again, if it’s a time-consuming process now, you might benefit from the cloud.
5) Are You Planning To Centralize Your Network?
One of the biggest challenges most schools have with moving storage and other services to the cloud is the cost to implement it. Most of the time, schools that are transferring services to the cloud are targeting storage, software, and applications.
But there’s a benefit to shifting the network to a cloud-managed one, too—collaboration.
If you have multiple campuses or several IT departments, you should consider consolidating your network. It can help your IT teams collaborate on creating a better network.
What’s more, schools that consolidate their networks can save up to 20 percent on their IT spend—without cutting staff.
Creating a unified network will help you merge help desks and their ticketing systems, and the time saved in network management can be used to improve other services.