As Schools Ramp Up Digital Learning, Edge Computing Technology Partners are Key
October 23, 2020 By BlueAlly
A significant change was already underway at educational institutions far and wide, including the adoption of cloud resources and online learning. But, as with so many industries, the pandemic is driving schools to adopt these technologies more rapidly than they originally planned. Many schools were already investigating distance learning, such as to enable students to learn from home rather than miss school entirely on snow days. Now nearly every school has made plans for online teaching and learning for at least the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
As these schools quickly ramp up, they need technologies like edge computing to help enable this online or digital learning. In my role here at Schneider Electric, I routinely work with partners such as Cisco, which for years has been delivering cutting edge solutions for both K-12 and higher ed schools. Along the way, I’ve seen some of the challenges these schools face, including finding physical space for their growing IT arsenals, providing physical and cybersecurity, and adopting flexible network architectures that meet the needs of each student – including those who may now be learning from home. Let’s look at the challenges and recommended solutions that work.
Finding space in schools for IT
Many school buildings were built long before IT was even a consideration, so finding adequate space for IT equipment can be a challenge. We’ve seen racks of IT gear in janitor closets and servers stashed in a corner of an office, accessible to nearly anyone.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Now schools can get enclosures for most types of edge computing solutions. They include cabinet-like enclosures that will fit right into an office or classroom environment to larger racks with integrated power and cooling that can turn any space into a functional IT room.
Schools need to look for edge solutions that can also get all the compute, storage and networking equipment they need pre-integrated into their enclosures, following reference designs that detail which components work well with one another.
Physical and cybersecurity
Importantly, the enclosures must be physically secure, meaning they have some type of lock or card reader that ensures only authorized users can access the IT equipment inside. Good cybersecurity, after all, starts with good physical security. In some instances, cameras to provide video-confirmed access may be warranted, as well as vibration detection – to alert staff to unauthorized access attempts.
Along with these physical security measures, schools need a strong layer of cybersecurity to protect against attacks on their edge networks and IT equipment. As more schools adopt 1:1 computing, they also need to protect all those end devices with web filtering, anti-virus and more, to enforce acceptable use policies and protect against malware and botnets.
Cloud-based resources like G Suite can also introduce security risks. Schools must take steps to reduce their data exposure risk, defend against the introduction of objectionable content and language, and protect sensitive data such as student records and personally identifiable information (PII).
High-quality, flexible networks
As schools increasingly come to rely on online resources, they also need to think about the network that supports it all. Bumping up bandwidth may be part of the solution, but schools also need to adopt flexible network architectures, which enable them to shift resources on demand as requirements warrant.
Montana State University, for example, was operating two networks, one for its large research group, which requires extremely high speeds, and another for the rest of the university. But operating two distinct networks was costly and time-consuming. By adopting Cisco Software-Defined Access, a software-defined network (SDN) architecture, it was able to effectively merge the two networks into one from a management perspective.
“Cisco Software-Defined Access decouples network functions from hardware, so it is extremely efficient,” said Gregory Hess, Network Manager for the university. “We’re able to operate the new, expanded research network with minimal staff and low operational investment. Configuring a converged software-defined network versus two physical networks is transformative.”
SDN makes it possible for IT to ensure each student or classroom gets the resources it needs, even if those needs change day to day. That’s going to be extremely important going forward as schools adopt hybrid learning environments, with teachers not only instructing students who are physically in the room, but many more who are at home. That requires high-quality video solutions, such as Cisco WebEx, as well as a speedy, reliable network. The same goes for teachers who are instructing students in a fully remote model.
Cisco and Schneider Electric – teaming for success on edge computing solutions
No one company can supply everything a school needs to meet its edge computing requirements. That’s why Schneider Electric has made it a point to partner with leading edge IT solution providers like Cisco. In addition to its renowned networking, compute and storage products, Cisco also has solutions specifically geared to educational institutions, including secure distance learning and professional development for staff.
Those security components include web filtering and protection for end devices, as well as solutions to protect data in cloud collaboration applications while enforcing regulatory, operational, and security compliance. Those types of cybersecurity solutions dovetail nicely with the physical security that Schneider Electric provides for edge computing enclosures.
Also, deploying gear efficiently and with minimal disturbance to the educational setting can be a challenge. The ability to have all of the integration work done offsite, so a turn-key IT solution can be delivered and installed seamlessly is a real advantage for many educational systems.
This solution is very easily available; from APC’s long and trusted relationship with Cisco comes the Cisco-certified NetShelter SX and NetShelter CX enclosures with Shock Pallet for easy “rack and stack” and shipment of pre-racked Cisco UCS servers. These NetShelter enclosures with Shock Pallets make it easy to prepare fully populated IT cabinets for shipment in less time and with greater protection than before for fast, risk-free deployment.