The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Managing IT infrastructure in today’s next-gen world. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Chris LaPoint

CREDIT SolarWindsToday’s IT networks have taken on the complexity of a Dickens novel. School IT administrators are dealing with a head-spinning array of new devices and educational processes. Increasingly, teachers are embracing online learning, video and other methodologies. Mobile devices – particularly tablets – are becoming fundamental fixtures in our classrooms.

While this is great for students and teachers, it presents contrasting challenges for educational sector IT administrators. They are repeatedly being asked to evaluate new devices, applications and educational platforms that can accelerate learning and ease administration challenges. Simultaneously, they need to build infrastructures to support these devices and platforms and monitor them in case something goes wrong.

It’s essential that school IT managers implement a system that allows them to track who is accessing the network, when it’s happening, and through what devices. 

Compounding this is the fact that while some of these devices are school sanctioned, many are personal devices owned by students. The devices can access school networks, and information can be pulled down by just about anyone.

Therefore, it’s essential that school IT managers implement a system that allows them to track who is accessing the network, when it’s happening, and through what devices.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.” – Moby Dick

Pinpointing the exact location of a potential network threat has always been difficult, but that level of difficulty has risen along with the number of devices on the network. As the number of devices increases, so does the number of ports, switches and Wi-Fi access points that IT must monitor, or else risk information loss, viruses, and other hazards.

Administrators who implement automated network monitoring systems have the ability to successfully combat these issues. The systems can alert on which access points are being used and when, the types of devices hitting the network, and switch capacity. If something suspicious arises, managers can use the information gleaned to trace access back to a particular student or faculty member.

Further, access point monitoring can also help check for rogue devices – a real possibility in today’s environment.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” – Catch-22 

Out of nowhere, rogue devices can create havoc on a school’s network. Unauthorized smartphones, tablets, laptops – any web-connected device, really – have the potential to be used to access proprietary and personal information. With so many new devices being used on the network, it can be a challenge for IT administrators to determine which are being used for educational purposes, and which are being used maliciously.

Network monitoring tools can alleviate this challenge by providing detailed information on access points and IP addresses. IT professionals can use the tools to search for a specific device based on IP address, MAC address, or Hostname. They can then shut down the port or ports that the device was attempting to access, effectively barring it from the network.

It’s also helpful to compile a watch list of potentially threatening devices. The network monitoring system can then be set to alert administrators when one of those devices attempts to gain access. Automatic device scans can also be set up, easing the burden on already overworked IT managers to manually track the devices.

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” – The Merry Wives of Windsor

It’s not just devices that are causing strain on the network, but the new ways streaming technology is being used to educate students. Video, for example, is becoming a key educational component within many classrooms. Video apps and solutions like those included in Google’s upcoming Classroom suite can be data hogs. Still, teachers and students are accustomed to accessing large chunks of information quickly.

While these solutions may streamline the educational process, they further complicate bandwidth management. Therefore, IT administrators must optimize the network to be able to deliver information without compromise.

One way is to deploy a bandwidth monitoring system. Through this, IT managers can track bandwidth usage according to times of day, specific device type, and even down to the user. This information can help them develop effective strategies toward better bandwidth management.

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” – The Great Gatsby

IT professionals in the educational sector do not have time to track down everything that tests their networks; they’re already being asked to do enough. Instead, they need to ready their infrastructure before the threats happen. That means automating the monitoring and protection of their networks, thereby laying the groundwork for better management of today’s educational technology.

Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at SolarWinds, an IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas.

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