network management load monitoring network performance

How to Resolve Network Connection Challenges

About 63% of K-12 teachers use technology in the classroom daily. This includes laptops, educational apps, social media and the Internet. While it’s exciting to embrace eLearning, there are important factors to consider to prevent overloading school networks. Take a look at the following four areas that might cause network connection issues, and the solutions for resolving, or avoiding, said issues.

Transitioning to 1:1 Computing

There are countless articles discussing the benefits of 1:1 computing, but not many articles on how to successfully transition to 1:1 computing without burdening the technical infrastructure. Most school districts have relatively small IT departments. All technology staff need to be prepped and ready to support a large influx of wireless devices. Part of this process is ensuring the Wi-Fi network can support 1:1 computing. How many students at any given time will be on the network? What will they be doing (streaming video, researching, playing educational games, etc.)? Will devices be 2.4 GHz or 5GHz compliant?

Before purchasing devices, installing IoT sensors or implementing a BYOD policy, determine how many people will be on the network, and the services the network needs to support. Then, define the bandwidth and capacity necessary for those needs, and ensure the network can provide both before introducing hundreds of new wireless devices.

A best practice is staggering the introduction of devices. This provides time for IT to monitor the network and ensure everything is proceeding as desired.

Cloud-Connected Apps

Each student will need access to multiple educational apps, and many of these will be cloud-based. If the network isn’t monitored, problems, like high latency, can negatively affect students’ performance using those apps. For context, high latency causes long pockets of time for data packets to travel from a device to the application server in the cloud or from the server to the device, which results in slow application performance. Latency can be caused by busy networks, or low bandwidth (the limit on the amount of data a network can handle at one time). An end-to-end analytics solution can provide answers as to what is affecting network traffic. To achieve 100% network visibility, the solution should be able to monitor and analyze the network experience from a user’s device to the cloud and back, whether the connection is wired or wireless.

Some analytics tools will achieve this by using network tests, and continuous monitoring through a variation of tests benefits IT in establishing a baseline for network performance. This proactive practice also immediately reveals any issues, saves IT time in resolution and limits downtime for students and staff.

Number of Devices on the Network

The more devices on a Wi-Fi network, the more the network will be impacted in terms of load, capacity, density and interference.

  • Load: the measurement of traffic on a server.
  • Capacity: the amount of traffic a network can handle at any given time.
  • Density: the active connections on a network.
  • Interference: anything that disrupts or weakens the Wi-Fi signal. This can be caused by devices and APs competing for airtime, or even by non-Wi-Fi devices like microwaves.

To minimize negative network connections, be proactive. Wireless environments are constantly changing, and it is a good idea to monitor coverage and signal strength on a regular basis.

Look for an analytics tool that will monitor load, capacity and density as well as automatically identify all interference issues while providing actionable steps for resolution. The tool should also offer device fingerprinting and pattern recognition. This important capability enables IT to know exactly what the network is supporting and identifies which devices experience problems and how best to resolve any issues.

Online Standardized Testing

Many schools are required to perform online standardized testing throughout the school year. While a reliable network connection is always important, it is imperative for the students depending on it for these tests. A network that isn’t prepared for this type of activity can experience high interference, or slow connectivity. Be sure to include this network need when planning around network capacity for the next three to five years. An analytics tool that reveals changes to the network over time will make it easier to plan for upgrades as well as improve performance and reliability.

In addition to historical analytics, current analytics are the key to prevention. By proactively monitoring the network, IT are supported in quickly resolving any issues that could cause problems with online testing. An analytics tool with client forensics – e.g. one that pinpoints down to the individual device where an issue originated – eliminates finger pointing by identifying exactly where the issue lies. This saves IT time and effort in issue resolution and supports students with less downtime: a win-win situation for everyone.

Wireless networks are dynamic, and there will be changes and challenges in optimizing a school’s wireless environment. Defining needs, and proactively monitoring networks and devices, will make the road to optimization smoother and enable schools to support educational initiatives better than ever.

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