Cloud-managed networks are nothing new in terms of technology. They’ve been around for a while. But they can be new for schools, which historically take longer to adopt new technology.

That last link leads to an article written in 2012, yet still reads as though it was written today. It might even sound as though it’s talking about your network. All of which leads to the question of whether or not now is the 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

  1. Can Your IT Budget Accommodate Cloud-Managed Solutions?
  2. What Kind of Growth Are You Expecting?
  3. What Steps Are You Taking To Meet Your Security And Compliance Standards?
  4. Do You Need More Network Flexibility?
  5. 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.

Most IT departments are seeing their budgets stretched thin.
Pictured Above: Your IT budget.

But as technology becomes more common, it also becomes cheaper. Cloud-managed switches and access points are no different. In fact, many of them come with different ways of buying them today, including one or a combination of:

  • Flat rate
  • Subscription
  • Pay-as-you-grow
  • Pay-when-you-need

One of the better options for schools is a combination of subscription and the pay-as-you-grow models. We’ve seen strong 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. Granted, it’s not a fun solution to solve for, but it is an option nonetheless.

Basically, 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 on your network.

School networks are being burdened further by the BYOD programs many schools are implementing and an increase in the amount of bandwidth schools need.

In fact, in 2018 only 28 percent of schools had the required amount of bandwidth—at least 1 Mbps per student—required 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 1 out of every 3 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.

This is one of the first things we do when working with schools. The goal is to make sure the network improvements being made today has the capacity to handle the bandwidth needed in the future.

Video content in classrooms is becoming more popular.
Because it’s only a matter of time until everyone’s streaming YouTube videos.

Cloud-managed networks give you the flexibility and simplicity to manage the network and divvy up the speed where it needs to go. Yes, this can be done through other software and through a VPN, but the cloud could save you time in managing this.

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 already 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.

Cloud-managed networks can cut down on the time it takes to apply network changes.
Unless the weather’s nice and you want to walk.

Having role-based access control is just one step in that process, though. There’s also security patches and firmware updates to worry about. But, again, a cloud-managed platform makes this easier.

Download “12 Features That Make Cloud Managed Networks Easier To Manage” [Ebook]

Every update can be applied from one location—and by one person—if needed. You can also pick and choose which switches and/or 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 at a time it makes the most sense. 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 mentioned before that each student requires at least 1 Mbps of bandwidth for a 1:1 digital learning initiative. Maybe your school isn’t there yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. More importantly, that doesn’t mean you won’t need more.

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 to accommodate for testing periods or classes that will need more bandwidth.

Cloud-managed networks can help with adjusting bandwidth allocation across your campus.
For example, the teacher down the hall that insists that every educational video must be shown in 4K.

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 moving 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 and/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.