The Tide of Change Has Never Been Higher

Edward McKaveney, Technology Director, Hampton Township School District
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Edward McKaveney, Technology Director, Hampton Township School District

In the 20 years that I have been working with education technologies in higher education and K-12, the current pace and scale of technology adoption and change, we are seeing today is unparalleled. As digital business and digital learning accelerate globally, it seems like just a few years ago, that fiber to the home was a moonshot and convergence of analog and digital technologies were starting to disrupt traditional industries and IT departments as phones, security cameras, AV systems, HVAC, broadcasting, and other technologies where becoming IP enabled and shifting over to the network. It was about this time, that mobility and cloud computing began to change the landscape of organization networks and device usage in workplaces around the world. Now the Internet of Things (IoT) is advancing, this trend is into the realm of possibility, previously unheard of and unthought.

As creative and innovative designers, developers and engineers find new ways to connect lights, electric sockets, smart machines, cars, homes, buildings and entire cities along with their people, together into a smart plethora of networked sensors and data points constantly communicating with each other, analytic engines and visualization systems, one can see why the need for bandwidth and throughput is accelerating and the world has run out of IPv4 addresses. With the network growing exponentially, organizations need to carefully plan their networking strategy, address space allocations and security to deal with the increasing numbers of devices and traffic. As the IoT evolves, and people utilize more personal and professional devices, we can certainly expect more.

Focusing on mobility for a moment, the simple act of cutting a cord itself is not significant. It is what happens after that, as organizational cultures begin to shift and employees and others find new ways to work together, collaborate and share, that is significant. In office spaces, libraries and classrooms around the world we still see individual workspaces, but at the same time there is a growing use of informal meeting spaces, flexible furniture and collaboration tools that provide for unique learning and work experiences that are serving to foster ideas, facilitate human interaction and build the workplace and workforce of tomorrow.

Considering these bandwidth and throughput needs, powerful and intelligent switches and quality cabling are needed at the core of every network. Cabling can sometimes be overlooked as wireless LANs become the norm, but with access points deployed for both coverage and density, utilizing gigabit links, the need for a robust physical network remains. To this end, 10GB+ is becoming the norm for wired LAN and WANconnections, while high performance computing facilities are hitting new connectivity levels with 40 and 100GB services. As the need for speed and reliability grows for all organizations and particularly cloud service providers, the back end of the network itself is clearly more complex than it was a few years ago. To remain adaptable and flexible decision makers must plan for the ability to change out points on the network without a forklift overhaul.

“While every organization will weigh these benefits and challenges differently, the fact remains that these challenges are here today, and not just on the future horizon”

Furthering network demands is the need for application control and intelligence to be built into the net­work at switch and access point lev­els to ensure performance manage­ment, security and quality of service. Consideration must also be given to making the network more resilient. That is, plan to overcome power outages, service cuts, port fail­ures, attacks and the array of other chal­lenges that disrupt the organizations ability to carry out its digi­tal work. While every organization will weigh these benefits and challenges dif­ferently, the fact remains that these chal­lenges are here today, and not just on the future horizon.

Looking at how much of the network has detached from the tether, that was a cord to wireless with the simultaneous shift from traditional application installs to mobile apps, cloud services and the web, it is important to focus on providing a transparent user experience no matter what the connection type or interface. While 4G/LTE is here, the future of cellular and spectrum usage remains to be seen with 5G and the potential for multi-gigabit downloads,but the fact remains that cellular service does not work inside all buildings and WiFi has already reached that point for the most part with 802.11ac and looks to move past this with 802.11ad. As WiFi moves into the 60GHz range and tri-band services emerge, current best practices for WiFi include deploying dual band 2.4 and 5GHz access points to ensure service coverage while overcoming interference and maximizing the ability to support the many clients seen today. This being said, consideration must be given for range and density as users often carry two or more devices.

With this growth, rigorous security must always be factored into the design. Whether it is an insider threat or external intrusion, given the shift in networking, application delivery, mobility and device connections the line that once distinguished the perimeter of the network has blurred and security must be in place at all levels. Putting detection and automated remediation in place inside and outside is critical to quickly responding to threats and issues. Identifying a baseline for your organizations traffic patterns and knowing who or what is tied to devices and applications increasingly requires intelligence on the network. At the same time tracking and identifying the ever-changing device assets on the network and keeping up with patch management for the hundreds of applications is no easy task. While, one tendency to deal with this may be to lock down the network, given the pace of change, organizations must remain open, flexible and adaptable to fully leverage the power of technology to accelerate innovation and drive success.

In the end, we are shifting from the brick and steel of dedicated workplace and education buildings operating on an eight-hour day to an era of distributed learning, with anywhere anytime 24x7 work which in turn requires 24x7 services and infrastructure. Changing, maintaining and innovating the core of the network has many challenges, but whether it be physical or virtual, wired or wireless, the network has never been more critical to individuals and organizations around the world.

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