As more schools embrace laptops in the classroom and swap paper textbooks for digital, education technology (EdTech) initiatives have never been trendier. Many educators are finding new and innovative ways to use technology to broaden students’ horizons, enrich their learning, and help them develop necessary technological skills. For any of this to be possible, a whole lot is riding on the network.
To the Vail School District, the relationship between successful EdTech initiatives and healthy network performance is nothing new.
The district provides K-12 education to a large and rapidly expanding community twenty miles south of Tucson. For over a decade, they’ve attracted national media attention for their EdTech initiatives. The Vail School District opened the nation’s first textbook-free high school in 2005. Today all 18 of their schools are no-textbook. As one of the best-known school districts in Arizona, they are also the largest provider of digital content in the state of Arizona.
What the district has learned is that their heavy reliance on technology in the classroom makes smooth network performance absolutely essential.
In a Wi-Fi World, Downtime isn't an Option
Matt Federoff, Chief Information Officer for the Vail School District, said, "You don't use network monitoring software to show you what's broken. You use it to learn what normal looks like." With no sense of normal, glitches go unnoticed and turn into critical outages that directly impact student performance.
For the Vail School District, technology use in the classroom is a given. A 1:1 computer-to-student ratio is now the standard for all high schools; every student either brings their own laptop or uses a school-issued Chromebook. Teachers use free, digital instructional tools from Open Educational Resources (OER) instead of textbooks, and blogs and email to correspond with parents. Statewide assessments take place online instead of on paper.
Federoff says the district’s biggest IT challenge isn’t bandwidth —“It’s not 50 kids watching 1 YouTube video.” Instead, it’s the fact that students are constantly accessing smaller pieces of content, which puts a huge load on the overall network infrastructure. Demonstrating just how example network monitoring software in education is.
Years ago, a working, reliable phone was seen as a “God-given right,” Today, wireless networking capabilities are our assumed right, wherever we are—“not Starbucks-quality wireless, but enterprise quality wireless.” In the educational world, when learning depends on working technology, Federoff said it “can’t not work.”
And anytime the network is down, the situation has to be responded to immediately.
Know Your "Normal" with Network Monitoring
When Federoff first started working for the Vail School District, Intermapper was one of the first purchases he made. At the time, the district had no network monitoring or mapping software. Federoff learned about Intermapper in Macworld Magazine and choose it because it was modestly priced compared to other software providers with “outrageous, absurd pricing.”
Sixteen years later, the district is still using Intermapper.
Monitoring day-to-day traffic with Intermapper gives the school district an understanding of what normal traffic patterns look like. In the Vail School District, the IT team of 26 call their Intermapper installation the “big board.” Looking at the big board gives Federoff and his team an immediate synopsis of network health: whether everything’s healthy and flowing, or whether there’s cause for concern. Half a dozen employees also have remote access, which enables them to pull up the same network map wherever they are.
Detecting and preventing network issues becomes much easier with a current picture of network performance. Networks can have “catastrophic failures,” said Federoff, but more often than not, bigger issues are preceded by an intermittent failure that will appear and then disappear.
Case in point: when the school district added another grade to their 1:1 program last year, they were seeing intermittent slowdowns and poor performance on the network. Then IT put a trace on their core switch. It was quickly clear that the particular switch was completely overloaded— “Intermapper revealed that,” Federoff said. They were able to replace the switch and see traffic return to normal.
What does the school district like best about Intermapper? It’s easy to use, for one, said Federoff. They like seeing the network mapped visually. The software’s ability to work across platforms is also beneficial, as the school district’s technology runs primarily on Mac, but as the network has expanded, they’ve also needed to monitor Windows servers.
Explosive District Growth with the Right Tools
When the Vail School District started using Intermapper, there were only three schools. Today, having expanded to 18 schools, the district continues to provide students with enriching EdTech classroom initiatives even as the network has grown tremendously. “Frankly,” said Federoff, “I don’t know how I’d have gotten here in the thoughtful way we have without having (Intermapper) at my disposal.”
“It does what it says it’s going to do,” added Federoff. “We’re satisfied customers.”