1 a strategy paper from More, Better, Faster: Improving School District Network Capacity for 21 st -Century Learning SHUTTERSTOCK
2 More, Better, Faster: Improving School District Network Capacity for 21 st -Century Learning Introduction Miguel, a senior at a large urban high school on the East coast, straps a device to a toy vehicle and sends it careening down an empty school hallway, watching intently as it slams into a wall. The device measures the vehicle s acceleration, angle and velocity, which Miguel will download into a spreadsheet for a collaborative physics project. Earlier in the day, during a live webcast of a panel discussion held in Washington, D.C., Miguel s history class questioned White House officials via instant messaging. And Miguel is really excited about his afternoon engineering class, which will feature an interactive video presentation from a NASA engineer stationed thousands of miles away. Like Miguel, students across the country in school districts of all sizes and demographics are becoming more reliant on online and mobile content, devices, teaching methods, applications, services and other resources. As rich online media, methods and tools begin to dominate the classroom, it s more important than ever for district networks to be fast, secure, resilient and robust. Forward-looking schools and districts are evaluating and upgrading their wide area networks (WANs) and metropolitan area networks (MANs) to ensure that they are able to operate under high usage, adapt to flexible configurations, and withstand interruptions and bandwidth surges. This white paper by the Center for Digital Education (CDE) will serve as a guide. It reviews bandwidth recommendations and compares the pros and cons of building private networks with leasing networks. It also discusses the benefits of Carrier Ethernet for boosting network capacity across the district WAN/MAN. To help demystify budget-related issues, the paper looks at options for funding, including E-Rate, the federal support program that s used to help schools afford telecommunications and Internet access. This will be followed by a case study of a representative district that has addressed its network connectivity concerns with a sound solution that illustrates the choices, benefits and challenges faced by districts. Finally, it presents best practices and tips to help district leaders plan and execute network upgrades. How Much Network is Enough? School districts are being driven to higher network speed and capacity by a perfect storm of curriculum standards, consumer technology and digital education resources. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and other online curricula, online assessments, 1:1 computing and bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives are quickly stretching legacy networks beyond their breaking points. According to a recent CDE survey of over 150 K-12 education leaders, 75 percent of school districts either already have a 1:1 strategy in place, are planning for 1:1 or are currently piloting 1:1. At some point, it becomes too expensive and unfeasible to add more bandwidth to legacy, low-speed point-to-point networks. Some districts will be looking to trade up from copper leased lines to fiber optic networks. Others have already made the switch but still need to upgrade their capacity. 1:1 Computing on the Rise 19 % are piloting 1:1 Source: CDE survey, % are planning for a 1:1 initiative 31% have a 1:1 strategy in place 2 More, Better, Faster
3 How much capacity do schools need? That depends on the number of students and type of resources, media and devices being used. Jessica Rosenworcel, a 2012 appointee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), advises schools to dream big. 1 I want to see 100 megabits to every school per 1,000 students by the 2015 school year. And then I want to see a gigabit to every school per 1,000 students by the end of the decade, she says. I call that dream likely and dream big. Rosenworcel s advice aligns with State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) guidelines, which recommend: External Internet connection to the Internet service provider (ISP) At least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff by At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff by Internal WAN connections from the district to each school and among other district schools At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff by At least 10 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff by Future-Proof Networks: Build vs. Buy As they consider the options for improving WAN/MAN connectivity, one of the first critical decisions that district IT leaders will face is whether to build their own network or to lease what they need from a service provider. On one hand, owning your own network is a carefully thought out part of a telecommunications strategy that includes delivering additional capacity on demand as bandwidth needs and student population grow. For districts that have the budget for buying and refreshing networking equipment, and the personnel to maintain and manage it, a private fiber optic network delivers high levels of network performance and control of network traffic and district data. Building a network is a real possibility for school districts because the cost of fiber has plummeted in the last decade. Many large and even mid-sized school districts, community colleges and colleges have taken advantage of the plunging cost of unactivated, unused dark fiber and the networking gear necessary to build fiber optics networks. It s often a cost-effective solution for districts that are far from service provider facilities. And the equipment has become easier to operate, so most IT staff with IP networking experience are able to manage a private fiber optic WAN or MAN. I want to see 100 megabits to every school per 1,000 students by the 2015 school year. And then I want to see a gigabit to every school per 1,000 students by the end of the decade. I call that dream likely and dream big. Jessica Rosenworcel, 2012 Appointee to the Federal Communications Commission But there are downsides to building and managing a private network. For starters, it s an upfront capital expense instead of an ongoing operational cost. If your district routinely makes capital outlays for computing devices or other equipment, you re tying up funds in your network that could be used more wisely elsewhere such as a 1:1 initiative. A district would also have to factor in the employee expenses for ongoing management of the infrastructure a difficult task when so many districts are already strapped for resources. In addition, building a network locks you into specific technologies for the long term, making it difficult for you (or your successors) to change course in the future. And you will incur the ongoing cost of refreshing routers, switches and other networking gear. When deciding whether to build a private network, keep in mind that significant portions of a dark fiber installation are not eligible for purchase under the federal E-Rate program. Only dark fiber installed on district/school property is eligible, and the program requires the fiber to be lit immediately. Also, the routers and networking equipment needed to operate a dark fiber network are not currently eligible under Priority 1 E-Rate funding. Building a private fiber network provides dedicated, unlimited bandwidth, but that s overkill for many districts. For these districts, it makes more economic sense to pay for needed bandwidth now, while ensuring that they ve chosen a solution that can be easily upgraded when required. Leasing an activated, lit fiber network and all the necessary networking equipment from a carrier is a practical choice. The service provider assumes all the cost (and risk) of refreshing networking technology and managing and maintaining the network. The district is able to take the cost of the lease as an operational expense, freeing up its capital funds for other equipment. 3
4 Another plus: Districts can negotiate service-level agreements (SLAs) with carriers to guarantee the required performance levels. This allows IT staff to focus on mission-critical functions such as supporting enterprise systems and applications, managing security, delivering digital learning tools and resources, investigating new technology solutions, and, most importantly, focusing on furthering the education of students. Leased lit fiber is also eligible for federal E-Rate funding. Carrier Ethernet for Internet Access Many schools are choosing WANs and MANs based on the Ethernet standard. Ethernet is the de facto local area network (LAN) standard for most school districts and other enterprises; Ethernet is expanding from the LAN to the WAN/MAN and becoming a popular option for Internet access. Analysts predict that Ethernet will experience 20 percent growth rates through 2015, especially as an Internet access service. 3 A Carrier Ethernet MAN or WAN solution can be designed as a point-to-point, hub-and-spoke or mesh network architecture. It can scale from one to any number of sites. Unlike other access options, Ethernet in the WAN/MAN commercially Analysts predict that Ethernet will experience 20 percent growth rates through 2015, especially as an Internet access service. known as Carrier Ethernet can be implemented by the service provider using switches to create connections in a cloud or as point-to-point dedicated connections. This means that it s a simple, flexible Internet access protocol and therefore a solid foundation for school district WANs and MANs. Carrier Ethernet has many benefits for school districts. First of all, its dominance in enterprise networks makes it an affordable alternative for connecting schools with each other and the district office, network operations center (NOC) and/or data center. Ethernet is plug-and-play simple to operate. An Ethernetbased access network can be easily connected to each individual enterprise LAN. In addition, Ethernet and Gigabit The Benefits of Leased Lit Fiber When leasing an activated, lit fiber network from a carrier: The service provider assumes all the cost (and risk) of refreshing networking technology The service provider manages and maintains the network Capital funds are freed up for other expenses or equipment Service-level agreements can be negotiated to guarantee certain performance levels E-Rate funding can be utilized Ethernet interfaces, ports and cables are familiar and widely deployed in school facilities and servers, PCs, printers, switches, routers and other network-connected devices. This means that districts can leverage existing equipment, skills, resources and in-house networking skills. Carrier Ethernet can be used to connect directly to the public Internet (in the case of a district office or data center, for example) or to create a network connecting multiple sites. It supports voice, video, data and communications applications at speeds that can scale up to 10 Gbps (compare that to Mbps, the maximum speed of a T1 line). Speed is the same for uploads and downloads, and it works equally well with network-based cloud services or data-center hosted applications. Voice and data can run over the same connection. Carrier Ethernet is flexible enough to connect into IP-based virtual private networks (VPNs), provide Wi-Fi network coverage and support mobile and remote user access. It provides a secure, dedicated link to your ISP and leverages the same tools that are used to secure and protect the Ethe rnet LAN. Because it s a simpler protocol to manage and scale, Carrier Ethernet can be monitored and managed similarly to other Ethernet-based networks. For example, users have the flexibility and control to route traffic or allocate bandwidth, depending upon the applications and number of users. Service providers can add capacity remotely and in small increments as little as a single Mbps at a time. This means that educational organizations don t pay for extra capacity until they need it, even if they need it very quickly. For connecting disparate locations, Carrier Ethernet can run over fiber, copper or even fixed wireless/microwave 4 More, Better, Faster
5 links. It is compatible with many protocols, including dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). MPLS networks are commonly used by large service providers because they enable them to handle a mix of traffic, including Internet protocol (IP), frame relay or ATM. Ethernet over MPLS networks are highly secure, reliable and scalable. DWDM is a technology used to make fiber optic communications technology more efficient. It combines and routes various types of signals through a single fiber strand, and then separates them so they can continue to their final destination. Ethernet over DWDM networks are an extremely efficient technology for transferring large amounts of data at high speeds among numerous locations. The Funding Conundrum Even in flush economic times, school districts scramble to find funding for technology initiatives. Funding is one of the major challenges faced by district technology leaders that want to expand district network capacity. Since 1998, the FCC s E-Rate program has been a valuable source of funding for Internet access in schools. Its original purpose was to help schools obtain affordable communications services at a time when only 14 percent of classrooms were able to access the Internet. 4 E-Rate has been a success: Today, more than 95 percent of classrooms have Internet access. But as new ways of teaching and learning have placed a greater demand on school and district broadband and WAN networks, the FCC has recently made recommendations to modernize its E-Rate grant program for helping schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access. The goal is to shift the focus of E-Rate from classroom connectivity to student bandwidth. The FCC s Rosenworcel sums it up: The issue is no longer connectivity, it s capacity. We want to make sure that every school has really high-speed broadband. If we make some changes to the E-Rate program, we can do that. 5 That s good news for districts whose aging networks aren t able to handle the bandwidth needs of today s classrooms. The proposed modernization of the program will address the evolving Internet access requirements brought about by digital learning. It aims to improve schools broadband capacity, make purchasing more cost effective and streamline program administration to make the application process more efficient. 6 The program will continue to be funded by a tax on consumer phone bills. Many states have stepped up to the plate to supplement funding for broadband initiatives in schools. For example, the state of Florida s recently passed budget includes $17 million for K-12 wireless access and broadband connectivity. 7 The private sector can also be a source of funding. Partner with IT companies and local firms to achieve your goals, and look for vendors that are willing to work with you on alternative financing methods, especially if you re considering large capital outlays. If you re considering grant funding, polish up your grant writing skills or better yet, hire a grant writer because the current economic climate is very competitive. Look for funding sources that are aligned with your district s location, specific grade levels or student socioeconomic status. Other historical options include municipal bond or budget overrides for technology procurement. They can be very effective but take a lot of advance planning and advocacy, and are not without the risk of failure. School districts in the state of Georgia have the option to seek a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, which must be approved by voters. SPLOST generates revenue for district capital projects by increasing county sales tax by a percent for a specific amount of time. K-12 Education Technology Funding Streams General Operating Fund Grant (Federal/State/Local) E-Rate Capital Bond Initiative PTA Organization Tax Levy Tuition Alumni Association Source: CDE survey, % 16% 11% 26% 22% 41% 56% 67%
6 SHUTTERSTOCK Case Study: Gwinnett County Public Schools Georgia s largest school district completed a districtwide rollout of a new fiber optic MAN last year. When we saw that the teachers and students were demanding more and more video as part of the learning experience, we knew that we had to increase capacity, says Scott Futrell, CIO of Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS). 8 GCPS needed to boost bandwidth for 132 schools and 167,000 students to enable its eclass program, a districtwide digital content, learning, assessment and support system designed to dramatically revitalize the student experience. If you want to heavily use digital content, you have to build your network infrastructure first, says Futrell. If you don t have a secure, soundly managed infrastructure, it s difficult to proceed. Our goal, he continues, was to give teachers the confidence to use digital content no matter where it was located. When developing their lesson plans, they know that the resources are there and that they will work. The district began a pilot program in 2011 and rolled out the upgrade across the entire district in about 18 months. GCPS adopted Ethernet over DWDM for an efficient network that allows the district to categorize network traffic flow to prioritize instructional digital content. We wanted lit fiber for E-Rate purposes, but we wanted to be able to manage the throughput on the fiber, explains Futrell. Our carrier worked with us to provide a lease that gave us a level of control that we were comfortable with. Before the upgrade, every school had a 100 Mbps Internet connection. The district upgraded with an eye toward high availability, resiliency and load balancing. It leased one single-gigabyte link of dedicated fiber from every school to each of the district s data centers so that each school has two single-gigabit external links. In addition, its two data centers are connected by two 10-gigabit links. As a result of the upgraded network, GCPS schools have 20 times more bandwidth. To achieve this, the district was able to reduce its circuit costs by 50 percent, then double the number of circuits which resulted in the increased bandwidth for the schools at no additional cost to the district. Because the new network also allows for centralization, consolidation and virtualization of servers, the district was able to reduce the number of servers in use from 928 to We re very happy with the upgrade. For all practical purposes, we have a dedicated network, notes Futrell. That takes away a lot of worry. We have failover, resiliency and the highest levels of availability. 6 More, Better, Faster
7 Best Practices: 10 Tips for Upgrading the District WAN/MAN 1. Treat bandwidth as a utility. Adopt the philosophy that network bandwidth is a utility, like phone, water or electrical service. This outlook helps district leadership, school board members and the community understand the need for appropriate network capacity in the schools. 2. Build a tight business case. A business case should detail the district s current and future capacity needs. Include a gap analysis that explains current shortcomings, as well as technology and design recommendations. SETDA guidelines are a good starting point, and take into account the specific needs for the CCSS or other online curriculum and assessment initiatives. 3. Analyze cost and potential ROI. In many cases, an ROI analysis will show that the operational costs for a better network are the same, because the cost per megabit has decreased. 4. Include network upgrade costs in 1:1 funding. If you re setting aside funds over time for a 1:1 initiative, include costs for upgrading the network. 5. Choose a dependable, flexible service provider. You want a partner that will be around in 10 years. Look for a financially stable provider with a variety of service options and the ability to meet your future needs. It is helpful if the provider has a successful record of education deployments. In addition, look for a provider that has the resources to be flexible and customize the solution to your particular situation. 6. Look for a reliable fiber infrastructure. Whether you re going to build your own private network or lease lit fiber, you ll need to find a carrier with an expansive, reliable fiber infrastructure in your location. 7. Consider equal access. Students have high-capacity Internet access at school, but what about at home? Socioeconomically disadvantaged students may be saddled with dial-up speeds at home or even worse, no access at all. Consider providing 3G/4G access via mobile devices or mobile hotspots that students can check out. 8. Negotiate favorable SLAs. If you re leasing your network, ensure that you always have the connectivity and access you need by working with your provider to develop SLAs with specific metrics, remedies and penalties defined. In addition, insist on proactive 24/7 network monitoring. 9. Design diversity. When designing your network, pay attention to potential points of failure so that learning doesn t grind to a halt if there is a problem with one connection. 10. Don t forget the LANs. Wired and wireless LANs at each individual school should be able to handle the amount of bandwidth coming in. It s especially important to boost wireless access points if you re deploying BYOD or a 1:1 initiative. Conclusion Insufficient network capacity in schools is one of the biggest obstacles on the road to personalized, 1:1, digital learning. As FCC commissioner Rosenworcel has stated, We fail our students if we expect digital-age learning to take place at near dial-up speeds. 10 With the shift from books, blackboards and projectors to tablets and other mobile devices, streaming video and audio, and content and applications located on the Internet and in the cloud, school districts must turn their attention to providing enough bandwidth for effective use of learning resources. By upgrading the connectivity among the district office, NOC and/or data centers and schools using Ethernetbased technology, school districts gain the benefits of higher network capacity via an affordable, familiar technology that takes advantage of existing equipment. Endnotes Ibid All information from Scott Futrell from CDE interview conducted on Aug. 20,
8 SHUTTERSTOCK AT&T provides innovative solutions that enhance the delivery and administration of K-12 education including mobile and distance learning, professional development, and data management. AT&T has the experience and expertise to help you mobilize teaching and learning, secure the learning environment, plan for emergencies, optimize applications and network performance, improve safety and enhance efficiency. We deliver secure, high-speed access to 21st century teaching and learning applications over one of the worlds most advanced and powerful networks. The Center for Digital Education is a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy, and funding. CDE advises the industry, conducts relevant research, issues white papers, and produces premier annual surveys and awards programs. CDE also hosts events for the education community. CDE s media platform includes the Center for Digital Education Special Reports, an online resource site, newsletters, and custom publications e.republic. All rights reserved.
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