Infrastructure: you get what you ask for

Deploying a mobile learning scheme without ensuring that appropriate infrastructure is in place is like recruiting teachers and buying books for a new school, without thinking of building the classrooms.

This is the first of three blog posts which will help you make the right decisions on infrastructure.

A mobile learning scheme will be at the heart teaching and learning, used by every member of staff and every student, throughout every day. It is worth getting the infrastructure right.

The first thing to do is get your plan down on paper – with a project definition document. You cannot expect someone to build you a network that meets your expectations if they do not know what the expectations are.

There are three simple steps to this

1. Define where you are coming from

The first task is to evaluate the current infrastructure. What do you have, what is it used for. Is it appropriate infrastructure to support your long term plan.

Start with at least three network diagrams. These will show what you have and where it is.

As a minimum:

  • Physical Diagram
    • Cabling + Cabinets
    • Wired LAN (switches)
    • Wireless LAN
    • Internet connection(s)
    • Servers
    • Safety and Security “boxes”
  • Logical Diagram
    • Subnets and IP Addressing
    • Identity Management
    • Safety and Security Systems
      • Firewalls
      • Web Filters
      • Anti Virus etc
  • Devices and Applications Diagram
    • Staff devices, student devices, school devices
    • Directory servers
    • Underlying Applications
      • Data Storage
      • Printing
      • Audio Visual

2. Define where you are going

It is important that the people responsible for your infrastructure know what it is going to be used for. Start with a plan which addresses what you want to achieve and broadly how you want to achieve it.

Your supplier needs to repeat the above diagrams and planning tasks to define how the network will be deployed.

They must consider:

  • How many staff? How many pupils?
  • How many devices?
  • What type of devices?
    • iPADS require different infrastructure to laptops
  • What type of ownership?
  • Where will they be used?
  • What are the underlying applications
    • Data storage – will this be local servers or cloud based.
    • Printing – who will print what to where. From what devices. With what controls.
    • AV – who will display what to where. From what devices. With what controls.
  • What are the front line applications
    • Will your core productivity applications be local or cloud based? Will they be Apple, Google or Microsoft, or a mix?
    • Will you be using HTML5 web applications for teaching and learning or device based “apps” on tablets?

Once this kind of information is available appropriate infrastructure can then be identified. The watch words are “fast, reliable, safe, secure, managed” and “at scale”.

  • Fast enough to ensure un-hindered access to learning resources
  • Reliable so learning is not interrupted by technical glitches
  • Safe – providing access to only to resources which are appropriate for each individual and protecting everyone from unwanted external connections
  • Secure – so we can be sure we are being safe
  • Management and Monitoring – to ensure appropriate use
    • At Scale – we now deploy more than 30 times the number of devices than typically used on network 5 five years ago. We need to know how many devices will be on the network, and what it is envisaged they will be used for.

3. Be prepared for Icebergs

  • Half of the cost is “below the water” i.e. infrastructure not devices. Budget appropriately!
  • You should expect to spend as much or more on infrastructure as you do on devices

This is one of three blog posts which will help you make the right decisions on infrastructure:

Written by Rob Leggett, founder of and business development director at Siracom, distributor for our sponsor Meru Networks. Following their recent acquisition by Fortinet, Meru’s sponsorship will continue under the Fortinet brand.

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