Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Are You Ready for BYOD: Advice from the Trenches on How to Prepare Your Wireless Network for the Bring-Your-Own-Device Movement

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Are You Ready for BYOD: Advice from the Trenches on How to Prepare Your Wireless Network for the Bring-Your-Own-Device Movement

Article excerpt


WHEN STUDENTS AND STAFF returned to school in the Jordan School District (UT) after the 2011 Christmas break, Ron Bird could see that the number of devices on the wireless network had jumped by several hundred compared to pre-vacation levels. "I figured that was just whatever Morn and Dad bought kids for Christmas," says Bird, the district's network and technical services manager. "That's how fast the demand for access is growing."

Nevertheless, Bird and his colleagues felt like they were prepared. They already had spent several years building out their wired and wireless infrastructure, anticipating the emergence of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement. "We knew the students were starting to bring their devices," Bird says, "and we would have to support that." Just over a year into BYOD, Jordan now supports approximately 2,000 students who bring their own devices to school.

Bird's experience in Jordan comes as no surprise to Philip Wegner, president of SecurEdge Networks in Charlotte, NC, which specializes in developing wireless networks for the K-12 sector. Wegner notes that just a few years ago he dealt almost exclusively with district-owned Windows-based PCs. "Now it is much more heterogeneous, with iOS and Android devices," he says, "and, with the BYOD wave, even networks built in 2008 are starting to be outdated."

Many districts around the country face the same issues Jordan did as they launch their own BYOD initiatives. Putting aside the instructional questions, the infrastructure issues alone can be daunting.

T.H.E. Journal asked four K-12 technology leaders from all over the United States to describe the paths they took to BYOD, the preparations they made, the lessons they learned, and the most important questions they asked--or wish they'd asked.

Little by Little

Hanover Public School District, Hanover, PA

Key to BYOD readiness: Years of gradual improvement to the wireless network

Top question to ask vendors: Can you segregate the BYOD traffic on the network?

When the school district in Hanover, PA, launched its BYOD program at 500-student Hanover High School last October, it already had several years of growth in its wireless infrastructure to build upon.

"We did have to make some adjustments to the wireless network for the BYOD project, but not as many as we had thought we would," says David Fry, the district's technology coordinator.

Hanover had started beefing up its wireless system in anticipation of moving to a 1-to-1 laptop program, but--as is the case in many districts--funding for an entire transition is not yet available, so a BYOD program became an incremental step. Five years ago, Hanover started with a much smaller iteration of wireless that had controls at individual access points. "But that proved unmanageable as we wanted to grow," Fry says. "We wanted a system with a central controller."

So, three years ago Hanover chose a system from Ruckus Wireless that added access points, but also the tools to adjust signals and do load balancing. "In many cases, that means dialing it down in cases where we have seven or eight access points overlapping," Fry says. (When laptops switch access points, it can sometimes cause dead periods that last as long as 10 seconds.)

"Ruckus also has tools that do a background scan and allow me to see any rogue access points," he explains. "Sometimes they are just in somebody's house near a school, but it does allow us to switch away from that channel."

Most consultants recommend placing BYOD traffic on a dedicated virtual network, separate from the district's own network, so there is no chance of those devices accessing budget or human resources data, which is the approach Fry took when he was building his network. "So now we have two different wireless networks," he says, "one for district equipment and one for personal electronic devices. …

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