Is your school network ready for the Internet of Things?

By mverbloot posted Jul 17, 2016 05:30 PM


solution-k12_c.jpgThe junior school kids are hunched over their desks building their own computers, while in the classroom next door, students are programming in Scratch. Down the hall, students use virtual reality to fly through the bloodstream to learn about different cells they encounter. Over at the high school, the kids are fine-tuning their fighting robots for an upcoming state competition. That’s learning for today’s digital kids.


The rise of the connected school

Technology continues to transform education to better prepare students with critical skills. Ultra-low-cost computers like Raspberry Pi and CHIP can put cheap, powerful computing in anyone’s hands—not just resource-rich school districts. Virtual reality content, traditionally associated with gaming, can help students actively experience—and learn more deeply—than simply reading or passively watching. Whether it’s Oculus Rift, Google Magic Leap, Microsoft HoloLens or a yet-to-be-invented device, virtual reality, and augmented reality will find their way into everyday learning.


The momentum continues to build. When Raspberry Pi computers debuted three years ago, it cost $5. Since then, five million Raspberry Pis have been sold. The latest, Raspberry Pi3 costs just $35 now, which is the same price as the Raspberry Pi2.


The success of Raspberry Pi is attracting competitors, too. CHIP, a $9 computer that was launched as a Kickstarter campaign, is also making inroads.


Statistics about the use of virtual reality in education are hard to find, but Deloitte predicts that the overall virtual reality industry will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016. Anecdotally, in a recent presentation that I gave in Australia, about 10 percent of the audience was already using virtual reality in the classroom and about 5 percent were using Raspberry Pi.


As the Internet of Things (IoT) expands into the classroom, now is a great time to start asking questions about the impact of these devices on your schools’ network.


Get ready for even more devices

Dealing with the influx of laptops, tablets and smartphones was a big enough challenge for many schools with each needing to develop a suitable BYOD policy framework and then implement a policy access management system like ClearPass. Low-cost computers, virtual reality displays, augmented reality devices, smart whiteboards and other educational IoT devices will soon be commonplace in classrooms and present yet another challenge to the school’s network.


That means your school network needs to be ready. These devices are designed to be rapidly adopted, and you may suddenly find hundreds or even thousands of new wireless devices connected to your network.


To stay affordable, many IoT devices use the 2.4GHz wireless band. Unfortunately, that band is already slow, crowded and noisy. It’s mostly used by older tablets and other legacy devices and some have even declared 2.4GHz unsuitable for serious business.


Nevertheless, you need to be ready for an influx of new types of devices that use the old workhorse frequency. Make sure your wireless network is in control over the devices and has smart RF management and tuning techniques like band steering and band balancing to deliver a better user experience. By proactively managing the air, modern dual-band-capable devices will stay on the 5GHz band, and the 2.4GHz band will be freer for the newest crop of educational IoT devices and older wireless devices.


Prepare for a rise in threats

When you teach kids engineering skills, you can’t expect them to not push the envelope. While they’re tinkering, they’re probably going to do a little hacking.


This new crop of educational IoT devices isn’t purpose-built for security. They may run non-standard operating systems or stripped-down versions of common operating systems like Windows 10. Threats and vulnerabilities are simply an unknown.


We’re moving from a world where most devices in the classroom ran a couple of different operating systems—Windows, iOS, Android and Chrome OS—to potentially hundreds of operating systems and form factors.


You need a way to quickly, securely and easily connect any device, even as new device types are invented. Outdated, legacy network access methods won’t cut it. Make sure your current network access tools can onboard mobile and IoT devices, assess device health, and provide guest access without any hassles to the IT staff or the users. You need an easy way to profile all unknown devices and define smart policies to control access and protect against device threats.


If you haven’t already revamped your security for mobility, make sure you’re ready to provide strong access controls for all kinds of connected devices. An Adaptive Trust model is a good starting point. With Adaptive Trust, contextual data is leveraged across the network and security systems to mitigate the risks of traditional endpoints, mobile devices, and even IoT devices.


IoT can have a big impact on education, but as network leaders, we need to prepare now. I’d love to hear how cheap computers, virtual reality, and other connected devices are changing how your students learn—and how you’re building networks for them. Please tell us in the comments below.

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