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Managing a District BYOD Environment

Preparing your network infrastructure is the crucial first step in implementing a BYOD initiative

The influx of devices and applications that result from a BYOD project typically strain a district’s wireless network. Keeping your network secure is also a concern. However, with the proper device and network management tools, these issues can be mitigated and innovative ways of delivering education through technology can be achieved. This web seminar, originally broadcast on August 22, 2013, featured experts from Cisco Meraki and GovConnection, who offered advice on how to plan for, implement, and manage wireless networks in a BYOD environment.

Jennifer Puglielli
Cisco Meraki Partner Manager

Cisco Meraki is a recognized leader in cloud networking; we offer unique solutions for wireless and wired environments. Through the cloud, you can manage your district’s infrastructure in one interface. We offer a 90 percent provisioning and optimization tool that is available from anywhere. This allows for efficiency for IT staff and allows us to fulfill functionality requests from our customers quickly. With the cloud offering, we are increasing scalability and manageability. Having the ability to put the controller in the cloud means there is no longer a need to have an on-premise controller. That also means there is a reduced need to send IT staff to different school sites. IT staff can see the health of the network remotely and make changes accordingly if necessary.

Our most well known products are our wireless access points (APs). We also offer security appliances and ethernet switches, including our new aggregated ethernet switches. Systems Manager is our mobile device management software, which you can use to help support BYOD in your district. BYOD has come up as a hot topic because many students have smartphones and tablets. We need to make sure there is security and visibility in the network so that information that should not be shared is not. Access to content must also be limited. What Meraki is able to offer is the ability to meet those objectives and do it in a very simple way.

Three key considerations when putting together your BYOD initiative are:

  • Visibility
  • Security
  • Capacity

We offer all of these components in the basic Meraki dashboard without any additional complexity or cost. From a visibility perspective, we offer down to the application level, the ability to determine who will have access to certain content on your network. This is done through a simple radio button and sliders in the user-friendly device management interface. Many districts may be concerned about the security aspect of a cloud device management system. However, your actual traffic is not being sent to the cloud, just the analysis of the websites. Meraki does not know what content is being viewed on individual sites. We are not aware of what people are doing on your systems, but we can tell you where they went and what websites they visited. How are you going to be sure your network is secure? The Meraki user interface includes firewall rules.

At the AP level, we are able to do traffic shaping. You can detect and mitigate rogue APs; we can tell you if someone is sitting outside your campus trying to access your wireless network or trying to attack it. These security aspects are built into all of our APs at no additional cost. The SSIDs for your students, staff, and guests are all segmented based on what content and applications they need to access. We offer 15 different SSIDs per AP, and we also offer different strategies for how you can segment your users. You can set up guest access for parents who may come into your school. There is also the ability to control access by device—you can ensure that iPads can access different information than smartphones, for example. Not only can you restrict by device type, but also by user classification; the superintendent’s iPad may need access to more apps than a teacher’s iPad.

What are the big concerns about capacity? In most cases, when students and staff bring in their own devices, there is going to be a level of recreational activity that you will want to scale back. Apps like Netflix, iTunes, and Facebook can consume large amounts of bandwidth; you will want to limit that strain on your network. In our firewall and traffic shaping functionality, you can throttle this back or even eliminate video as an accessible category if it is not being leveraged as an educational tool in the classroom. Or you can simply apply a group policy that disallows students from using video, but allows teachers to use it. Depending on the age of your school buildings, you may run into unique challenges due to brick architecture or steel beams. These can cause RF capability planning to be a very in-depth process.

The best way to have the most success in meeting your capacity needs is to have a site visit from your vendor. The vendor can help determine how many and where your APs should be located. Meraki can offer guidance on number of APs needed based on square footage. If you are supplying devices, a mobile device management system is crucial. What’s nice about the Meraki Systems Manager is that it is not necessary to have any Meraki hardware in place. You can install it on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone and immediately begin managing devices remotely.

Timothy J. Allen 
Manager - Networking Practice
PC Connection Services

GovConnection is a Cisco Gold Certified Partner with hundreds of certifications. It’s more about just passing an exam; you can have confidence that our certifications mean our staff has the capability to provide high-level technology services for your district. And as we see technology progress, we understand that wireless should become the core part of any district’s networking infrastructure. Before beginning BYOD, it is essential to consider the objectives and organizational goals for the IT team. Many times, I find district leaders who realize they have identified the “answer” in a BYOD initiative, but do not know what the question was. Know what you are trying to address and what problems you are trying to solve by installing a robust Wi-Fi network and implementing BYOD. Make sure what you deploy is what you envisioned and needed.

BYOD can mean a lot of different things to different people. Some administrators may believe only teachers should be allowed to BYOD, while others may believe that should be extended to students as well. Agreeing on expectations from the beginning is key to avoiding conflict and preparing your network infrastructure for the influx of users. The next piece to consider is about how to manage your network. To mitigate a lot of the fear factor around a BYOD project, bring in products such as Meraki to make device and network management simple. It’s also important to examine your infrastructure and ensure you have a well architectured design. This will drive the success of your implementation.

It is often recommended to have a good understanding of your network infrastructure. If you are currently having problems with data going across your network, those problems will only get worse when your network is inundated by BYOD. You must have an understanding of when your cabling was installed; if it was 20 years ago, it probably will not support the needs of BYOD. A wireless site assessment service that GovConnection provides will save a lot of time and energy in identifying how to work with different technologies. It will help you understand what your coverage looks like and where your problem areas are likely to be.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: