Keeping up with technology needs is a formidable task for any enterprise anywhere on the planet. But, for educational facilities, the challenge is often exacerbated by the desire to keep the network as open as possible – while still protecting applications from attack.
For one school system in Texas, getting up to speed meant replacing legacy systems to meet ever-evolving demands from the students, faculty and staff who were not only requiring connectivity from on-premises desktops, but – as might be expected these days – a whole range of laptops and personal mobile devices as well.
The Huntsville Independent School District (HISD) includes eight facilities, all located in Huntsville, Texas, just north of Houston. It encompasses six school campuses and two buildings housing administration and support personnel in maintenance and special education. It serves more than 8,000 people, including students and staff, and its network is comprised of approximately 4,000 desktop and mobile devices, with an additional 2,200 devices part of the district's bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative.
HISD is committed to providing quality educational opportunities for its students and has set high expectations for student achievement from the district, the parents and the community, says Tracie Simental, director of technology at HISD. "And, technology plays a major role in making these expectations become realities."
Ten years ago, the district was using a firewall and content filtering from two separate well-known vendors. These systems were managed by a single staff person. But, with today's more dispersed endpoints and teachers and students increasingly demanding to explore more content that was traditionally blocked, it became an almost overwhelming job for staff to manage the firewall, keep it updated and provide other needed support, says Simental.
At the same time, there were other devices required for email scanning and anti-virus, leaving Simental with no option but to purchase multiple devices. On top of that, the school's content filtering provider decided to triple its license fee.
Simental (left) and her IT staff of six began to explore other alternatives.
After an evaluation process, she and her network administrator chose a solution from Netwok Box USA. "The company's managed UTM+ did all of these things in one single device – content filtering, caching, email and anti-virus scanning, as well as intrusion prevention, plus they supported work tickets on the products," she says. "Our IT staff filed tickets and Network Box did the work."
Another motivation in implementing a content filter was meeting compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act, as federal funding is tied directly to it. "For our district, that's several hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk if we don't comply," says Simental. "Not to mention the security of our network."
She hasn't looked back. "We evaluated other content filtering solutions, which don't provide the all-in-one services, and even with the advances in technology, with other vendors we'd still have to purchase and deploy separate appliances," she says. "Using two Network Box E-4000X models in two locations continues to be the only viable solution on a cost/benefit basis."