​Four strategies to maintain a strong and secure IT network


Ever heard the term screenagers? Whoever coined it hit the nail on the head. But it isn’t just today’s teens who seem endlessly locked in a staring contest with their electronic devices.

Teachers and school administrators are heavily reliant upon connected devices to enhance learning. While all of this connectivity is certainly enhancing schools’ curricula, it is also putting a significant strain on their IT networks — and thus the administrators who are responsible for managing those networks.

In the not-so-distant past, our schools struggled to maintain a single, well-equipped computer room — a concern that seems quaint today. In 2017, the devices monopolizing a school’s network can range from anything to smartphones to laptops, and Apple Watches to Fitbit activity trackers.

This doesn’t even take into account the many ways that teachers are using technology to enhance student learning, including online applications and tools for a blend of traditional and digital instruction. All of these devices — and the data and bandwidth concerns that come along with them — can wreak havoc on network performance.

Let’s take a closer look at four key recommendations that can help educational IT professionals better manage this technology free for all, so they can keep their networks up and running without issue.

Don’t neglect security. While government and consumer data breaches steal most of the headlines, education is far from immune from the problem. Last year alone, Pennsylvania State University, Washington State University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Connecticut all sustained cyberattacks.

This makes sense, considering today’s classrooms are replete with device-wielding students. Yes, the potential for insider threats on today’s educational campuses is quite real. And combatting threats to educational networks, whether internal or external in nature, must remain top of mind for every educational IT administrator.

Monitor end-user devices. Enhancing security begins with careful and close monitoring of the various devices that are accessing the networking. All of these devices can create significant slowdowns and present security risks.

It’s imperative that IT administrators deploy solutions that allow them to track the devices that students and faculty are using and map them directly to their end-users. User device tracking can allow administrators to identify potential network problems resulting from use of a particular device—a security issue here (resulting from, for example, an unauthorized device), a bandwidth problem there—and trace those issues directly back to the source so they can be easily and quickly remediated.

Monitor network activity. This is an offshoot of user device tracking, and a necessity in stopping issues before they start. Administrators should be able to easily detect suspicious activity taking place on their networks and respond quickly in case something is amiss. Network monitoring solutions, which automate security and alert administrators when a problem occurs, are critical to providing complete visibility into network activity.

With the sheer number of devices being used within school walls, IT networks have become far too complex for traditional manual monitoring, and automated network management is a must. Administrators that have the ability to continuously scan their networks and provide automated alerts to potential hiccups can ensure efficient response times and seamless network performance.

Monitor bandwidth and set rules for internet use. This has more to do with available bandwidth. With the proliferation of online learning tools, students and teachers are becoming increasingly dependent on bandwidth-hogging applications, including all forms of multimedia streaming and mobile learning solutions These applications can put an enormous amount of strain on the network and impact overall performance and access to online educational tools.

Bandwidth monitoring can help identify issues that might be bogging the network down, allowing fast detection, diagnosis, and resolution of network performance issues. Administrators can identify bottlenecks that might be impeding the learning experience, identify areas impacting quality of service, and trace these back to their source.

Setting rules for internet use can also help. Administrators can work directly with school officials to determine appropriate limitations for both teachers and students. These limitations should take into consideration a number of factors, including size of the student body and faculty, number of authorized devices, and the amount of activity the network is designed to handle.

The solution is to managing this increasing complexity is to take things a step at a time. Protect the network by monitoring devices, activity, and bandwidth. That’s a winning strategy for maintaining an effective and secure network built to handle the educational needs of today and tomorrow.

Joe Kim is the senior vice president and global chief technology officer at SolarWinds, providing the overall technology strategy, product architecture and platform advancements for the company’s 30+ IT management products. Previously, Kim was the general manager of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s Transform business unit and has held other executive leadership roles at General Electric, Berkshire Hathaway and start-ups.