Schools are currently still adapting to new digital learning environments, and there is still a demand for smarter networks to support the sector’s ongoing changes. While there’s a tendency to want to undo or simply forget this past year, the digital imperative has been beneficial to the education sector and will persist in various capacities, bringing with it new requirements for network infrastructures. For many schools, this means the displacement of legacy WAN (wide area network) architectures with SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networks).
With so much of education – whether in-person or remote – dependent on the internet, reliability and availability of internet services is more important than ever. Now, schools need smarter and more agile networks to respond to the demands of a digital learning environment that’s still undergoing major changes.
The way forward with SD-WAN
So, how does it work? SD-WAN allows network managers to harness the power of the internet with software-based control to ensure applications performance is maximised, network reliability and stability is improved, and security and privacy is assured. Through this approach, the network can flex to meet the demands being placed on it and scale to meet high demand, making it more suitable to run cloud-based applications.
For example, SD-WAN can provide schools and universities with cost-effective connectivity to transport vital information supporting school administration and course curricula, while also prioritising specific applications that the school categorises as critical for employees and students. This management and prioritisation allows schools to dictate what content and applications get bandwidth priority. Not only does this facilitate a more dynamic learning environment, but also the ability of teachers and administrators to succeed in their roles.
How SD-WAN supports the ‘cloud explosion’
Since the onset of the pandemic, cloud adoption exploded as restrictions called for cloud-enabled learning tools. With SD-WAN, classrooms can experience improved access to these cloud applications to support remote learning scenarios, as well as hybrid models. Network managers can prioritise application traffic to ensure it takes the most direct, lowest-latency path. This means organisations are equipped with the agility to optimise the network and put the onus on mission-critical or latency-sensitive applications, like e-learning tools and the video and voice functionalities – both of which are key to current in-person learning, hybrid scenarios and online education.
This means organisations are equipped with the agility to optimise the network and put the onus on mission-critical or latency-sensitive applications, like e-learning tools and the video and voice functionalities – both of which are key to current in-person learning, hybrid scenarios and online education
Built-in encryption and firewall services only add to SD-WAN’s position as an ideal network solution for the education market. Businesses and corporations dedicate a large portion of their IT budgets to preventing and mit igating cyber-attacks as, for them, the cost of outages can number in the tens of millions of dollars. Despite this investment, many of these organisations are still vulnerable.
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During the pandemic, security has been elevated as a focus in education IT. An outage can cause serious issues that take students offline and limits the work that staff can get done. The hacking of software applications also pose a security threat in the online learning environment. By utilising a network in which software-based security functions are so tightly integrated, IT staff can feel better about their data security and network uptime without diverting significant additional efforts towards those areas in this time of increased reliance on network-connected technology.
The role of a managed network solution
Now, as vaccines are distributed and we enter the final stages of the pandemic– hopefully – hybrid approaches to learning for universities and schools are still being explored. With the support of SD-WAN, and the significant performance benefits that software-defined networking technologies can offer, it’s clear deployment as a fully managed service should be top of mind. In turn, SD-WAN will allow schools to improve the quality of digital teaching, and more importantly, focus solely on their mission of bringing the best educational opportunities possible to students.
Working with a partner for managed network services enables schools to leverage the support of an experienced telecommunications service provider that can assist in everything from network design, implementation, management and monitoring, to gathering quotes from access partners, and guiding strategy to maximise subsidised E-Rate benefits and manage USAC/FCC requirements.
For what’s been a rollercoaster year, these difficult times have taught us that it’s always wisest to prepare for an uncertain future. Now, the move towards implementing SD-WAN in education will not only seek to tackle issues that have arisen with the explosion of cloud-enabled learning, but also prepare schools and educators to meet other challenges. Equipping schools with a secure and agile network will prepare them to face new challenges in uncertain times, without compromising students’ education.