Technology in the classroom, part 2: Improving infrastructure and security

 In Hardware, Networking, Security, Solutions

As the school year progresses, so does student achievement. And so must your school network and its security. After all, security threats to your network and mission-critical data don’t leave for the summer. We’re again looking at our digital learning checklist to guide analysis of your school’s current IT environment, see where improvements can be made, and help you begin investing for the future.

Let’s continue, focusing on network infrastructure and security.

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Infrastructure

The increase in technology needed for student assessments, combined with federally mandated broadband (usually 256 Kbps and above) expansions, has forced network administrators to rethink their current infrastructure. While Wi-Fi should be a top priority for your school’s long-term IT plans (five years at least, to be safe), it’s not the only consideration – it’s important to anticipate future developments and strains on your data center from data consumption, budget restraints, and compliance regulations.

  • Are there significant lags on your network at certain times of day? Are there seasonal spikes? What is your short-term fix at those times? What’s your long-term plan?
  • How are you budgeting for short- and long-term network upgrades? What financing options are available, and what have you considered?
  • Do you have a strategy to leverage E-Rate funding?
  • Can your current wireless network support increased capacity?
  • Do you have tools in place to test how efficiently your servers are running? Are they virtualized?
  • Is your data center equipped to handle a growing variety of data and file formats?
  • Do you have data retention or backup retention policies in place for private student information? How long is this data stored for? Will it be stored on premises or in the cloud?

Many IT departments are wary of assessments that examine the vitality of their infrastructure and could reveal a fragile system that requires time, effort, and money to fix. They’d rather manage the occasional delay or performance issue with a simple patch or reinstall, not realizing that these quick fixes could escalate the problem and make it more expensive to fix later on. And unfortunately, a data center doesn’t show signs of exhaustion until critical systems are strained (like servers crashing during student testing). Strong planning and infrastructure support will lead to a resilient and agile network that can handle added capacity and avoid these disruptions.

Protection

In the past, broken IT security was a mischievous teenager unlocking the network firewall to play games or download music during a class lecture. Now, IT threats in schools go far beyond inappropriate downloads.

Digital records residing on school-run servers need to be secured because schools are susceptible to attacks from outside forces that steal private information for financial gain. Plus, security and protection pertains to the physical hardware as well; without proper protections, a student, teacher, or visitor can easily walk away with a device. With that in mind, IT staff should be asking the following:

  • Are there management systems installed on mobile devices and laptops? Can applications or files be downloaded on devices without a password?
  • What endpoint protection is installed on school devices?
  • What firewall protection does the school have, and how secure is the network from viruses or malware intruding and spreading?
  • Are personal records encrypted? Are there methods of encryption used in the network?
  • Do the layers of security communicate and work together? Are you sure the system would alert you if an intruder gained access?
  • What threat protections are in place on carts and other accessories?
  • How often do you assess the vitality of servers and other critical hardware?
  • Do you have a plan of action in case of a breach?

There are a number of intrusion detection and prevention systems that IT departments can deploy to protect their data centers from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, and unauthorized devices. Here are three solutions to consider:

  • MDM/MCM: Mobile device management (MDM) permits IT to monitor, manage, and support mobile devices within the school network. IT can easily set up a new stock of devices with MDM, and the software can lock down or wipe devices if they leave the school. Some MDM solutions include a mobile content management (MCM) component, which allows IT to push out updates and security upgrades to these devices.
  • Endpoint and network protection: Antivirus and antimalware software is a security requirement of any network, protecting all the information stored on devices. Next-generation firewalls and web/email gateways prevent viruses from intruding and spreading within a network, and encryption software protects sensitive information.
  • Carts and accessories: Sometimes the best protection is the tried-and-true lock-and-key method. Physical protection, such as locking devices in carts, prevents theft and scuff marks and ensures the longevity of devices.

Start prepping for the final exam

We’ve investigated what school districts should be asking about their IT environment, platform, infrastructure, and protection. In our final post, we’ll discuss how to implement the device and IT upgrades you’ve identified for your school district.

Do you have questions about your digital learning checklist? Leave us a comment below, or reach out to your SHI account representative.

Andrew Einhorn contributed to this post.

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