As wireless systems in K12 institutions have likely been in place for several years now, prior to the large influx of personal devices and district owned devices, we are beginning to see the ever growing need for expanding wireless capacity.
There are many options and considerations that need to be considered. Funding for these critical infrastructure changes happen infrequently, so we must do our due diligence to ensure we not only get the best value for our funding, but ensure it's future proofing us for devices that have not yet entered our districts. I've outlined my top four as I have just gone through the transition to a new vendor and platform. Easiest is not always the best! I've purposely left this blog vendor agnostic, however, i'm more than happy to share my experiences directly with anyone interested.
Below are four critical decisions we had to make which I think most K12 districts will also face and need to evaluate.
1. Cost to stay with current vendor versus cost to switch
One of the hardest things to do sometimes is to leave what you are comfortable with or a partner whom you worked with for many years. It is our job as IT Directors, CIOs, etc. to make educated decisions and evaluate everything on the market for the best interest of our stakeholders. I had met with literally every vendor on the market and really narrowed my choices down to two. During the process of meeting and discussing our current environment with various vendors, one stood out for a few reasons as a solution provider we wanted to work with. I was most impressed with their customer centric attitude and direct involvement with us through the process. They took the time along with the partner to sit down and discuss where we are, where we wanted to be, and asked questions about our district, rather than simply pushing product which we saw from others. They provided a LONG list of other K12 districts from just our vicinity that showed their market penetration. References were of abundance and everyone we spoke to had given praise. The number of customers who had been in our same situation and left for this vendor was quite large as well. Other vendors could not provide this scale of references, so it was assuring to know we were moving in the direction of many other satisfied customers. While the upfront cost may be a sticker shock to you when doing a rip and replace, comparing the cost of ownership over the term may surprise you. What I found out was that it was actually a cost savings in the long term doing a rip and replace by offsetting service costs. Don’t always take what you’re given at face value, dig deeper, you may be surprised what you find.
2. Controller versus cloud
The current trend in the wireless community seems to be that everything is going to the cloud. For some, the cloud can prove to be extremely beneficial by offsetting initial costs and rolling them into many years. However, for us, we knew we wanted to remain with controllers. Not only did we want more control over our environment and more troubleshooting ability, but also didn't want to be in a situation where renewals were not feasible and thus services would be severed. We ended up going with redundant controllers with 40G uplinks to each one. Considering we had a 1G uplink to one controller previously, this has removed a bottleneck in our environment. We are extremely happy with the performance we are seeing.
3. 802.11n versus 802.11ac
I’ve been seeing many districts replace 802.11n APs with the same. Although “n” APs may be slightly less cost, I fight to see the long term value in staying at “n”. I understand devices may not be running “ac” yet, or very few are, but in our environment the funding to complete a project like this comes once in many years, so to future proof our investment was my utmost concern. Not only will/do we see better performance out of our “n” clients on the “ac” APs, but we will reap the benefits as more “ac” clients come into our district. We were actually able to cut down on our overall number of APs through a better predictive study and post-deployment analysis which was enjoyable to see. These opportunities come once in many years, so it’s our duty to make sure we provide the best product for the long term value of our funding.
4. 1:1, BYOD and future proofing our environment
This ties right into future proofing your design and decisions for the unknown. We know that more and more devices will come into our buildings. That is not a question, but a fact. We don’t know what they will be in a year or two, but we do know we will be forced to support them. This is why we chose the latest AC technologies for our deployment. They will provide the capacity and growth we need in our environment for years to come.
We have just completed our districts deployment and so far we have had little to no issues and performance has been notably improved on existing g and n clients. We have little ac clients at the moment, however, they will grow after this school year. Overall, this has been one of the most pleasurable acquisitions and large scale deployments I have been a part of.