A school district in New Hampshire needed to enable BYOD, while still protecting its network and the students and faculty using it. Greg Masters reports.
Teachers are still writing equations and grammar rules on smart boards at the front of the classroom in Rochester, N.H., but other data that students, faculty and staff access is being delivered to their smartphones and tablets via the cloud.
It's the job of David Yasenchock, IT director at the Rochester School Department, to ensure that not only does the free flow of information continue uninterrupted, but that the 11-school district's network remains properly managed.
In the 21st century education environment, protection and performance go hand-in-hand, he says. “We knew that if we could connect the dots between those two imperatives and craft connected security strategies that deliver outside-in and inside-out protection, our district would be well placed to do more and gain sustainable and competitive advantage for our students and faculty.”
As such, he and his IT staff of eight began the search for a wireless security technology that could help them develop a strategy that would reduce equipment costs and enhance education.
To accomplish this, they needed to securely enable 2,000 students and 900 teachers and staff to use personal wireless devices, such as laptops and tablets, to collaborate via the cloud. Yasenchock (right) wanted greater access to educational resources for students and staff without the expense of adding additional computers.
In finding the right solution, the district settled on the Clean Wireless appliance from Dell SonicWALL, which Yasenchock said was at least $100,000 less costly than the closest alternative – yet still maintained the best features.
“The other products didn't catch as much as Dell SonicWALL did and lacked the same ease of use,” he says. “Clean Wireless offered the district secure, simple and cost-effective wireless networking by integrating universal 802.11a/b/g/n wireless features with an enterprise-class firewall/VPN gateway."
Performance was as much a deciding factor as affordability. One solution, for example, required a separate license for each access point, which was a major reason the district settled on Dell SonicWALL.
“We didn't have to buy a separate controller to manage the access points," Yasenchock says. "Also, many organizations cannot differentiate applications in use on their networks with legitimate purposes from those that are not business-critical and simply draining bandwidth or plain dangerous. But Dell SonicWALL's solutions gave us that insight.”
The Clean Wireless solution combines Dell SonicWALL's Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) with the features of a wireless controller, says Eric Crutchlow, senior product manager of network security at Dell SonicWALL. “All access points are centrally managed by the NGFW and can be configured for up to eight virtual wireless IDs (SSIDs) per AP (access point) in order to segregate and secure traffic," he says.
Yasenchock also praised the support functionality. “That made setting up wireless one of the easiest things we've had to do," he says. "It just worked – it was all up in a couple weeks. Because deployment was so easy, we finished four months ahead of schedule.”
Thanks to the technology, teachers now post customized videos and assignments to a district website, where students access and complete their homework from their own laptops, tablets or smartphones, either at home or over the school's wireless network.
The solution is easy to manage and operate, Yasenchock says. “The products are user-friendly and, therefore, reduced the cost of training,” he says. “Plus, the durability of the equipment made it so we don't have to change out equipment so often – so it saves us budget there as well.”
For students, there is no more digital divide. Instead of three pupils sharing one device, they can bring in their own and connect to the cloud. And when they work on their assignments in the classroom, they can save them, bring them home with them and keep working on them.
Crutchlow says the company is one of the few vendors that offer a firewall in combination with wireless. The NGFW manages all connections regardless of them being wireless or wired. This allows an administrator the ability to visualize and control overall bandwidth and ensure business operations are properly prioritized.
“In the case of schools, we have found that adding wireless for the students without consideration of bandwidth can quickly choke the network," Crutchlow says. "With a NGFW, we can limit overall wireless bandwidth usage and prioritize the applications necessary for administrators and teacher to perform their work, as well as filter content appropriate for students.”