Where is your school WiFi heading in the next five years?
That's the most important question to ask when you're looking to invest in new networking technology for your school district. When you purchase a router or switch, you're not just solving problems today. You're investing in a piece of infrastructure that can serve you for years, with proper planning.
With districts facing financial uncertainty in the years ahead, being able to show a long lifespan and low TCO is key to getting your upgrades approved.
So, keeping those expense reports in mind, let's talk a bit about the single most important choice when picking a new switch, beyond simple issues like how many ports you need. Whether your new switch supports Layer 3, PoE+, or multigigabit, working this out in advance will make a big difference to your upgrades in the years to come.
Choosing Between Layer 2 And Layer 3 Switches
The biggest difference between the low-end and high-end switches on the market is whether they support Layer 3 access. If at all possible, we recommend using a switch that supports Layer 3 or Layer 3 Lite.
Layer 3 switches are able to do their own packet routing, rather than relying on external servers to tell them what to do. This opens up a vast range of virtualization options and cloud-based setups that simply aren't possible on an old L2 switch.
Another standard also exists called Layer 3 Lite, or L3L. These switches are a compromise, allowing for the creation of virtual networks, but relying on static packet routes rather than using dynamic “smart” switching.
PoE and PoE+, and UPoE
As your district grows, powering your various network hardware will become an issue. If wiring tangles or socket overloads are an issue for you, Power Over Ethernet may be the solution.
The difference between PoE and PoE+ is primarily the amount of current they can deliver. PoE provides 15.4W and PoE+ provides 25.5W, compatible with the new 802.3at IEEE networking standard. UPoE is the newest standard at 60w. We expect this to catch on more when 60w can power pc terminals or dumb terminals again, or when office lighting and other automation gets more popular.
Which to choose will simply depend on your own load. Remember to look to the future as well, and the power needs of your overall networking goals.
The Best Brands In Networking For Growing School Districts
Now, to further increase your upgrade proposal's chances, let's talk about two brands that honestly provide a superb return on your investment. The ADTRAN Netvanta and Cisco Meraki line are the brands we most often recommend to schools that come to us.
There are several good reasons for this:
Low costs. Netvanta switches cost, on average, half as much as other models, while delivering comparable results in tests.
Future-focused design. Meraki has some of the most advanced equipment on the market today. With the Meraki license you are constantly getting updates for the equipment in your network.
ADTRAN plans on their equipment staying in your district for many years, and back it up with industry-leading lifetime warranties.
Ease of use. Meraki is known for their simplicity and scalability. With the single pane of glass management through the Meraki dashboard you can see all of the equipment and devices that are connected and troubleshoot any problems as quickly as they arrive.
The AOS software that accompanies ADTRAN's entire line ties everything together into a single universal GUI interface that powers your entire network.
Simple expansion. Like we mentioned before your Meraki equipment will constanlty receive sofatware and firmware upgfrades with th Meraki license.
ADTRAN focuses on simple upgrade paths, with their BlueSocket line of secure wireless access points.
Great customer support. Meraki has teams of dedicated people who care about networking and know the ins and outs of all things Meraki to help you setup your network.
Since their earliest days, ADTRAN has been noted throughout the industry for customer service that shines.
Now Is The Time To Start Planning Your School's Tech Upgrade Path
As the rush of innovation in communications has finally begun to slow a bit, certain technologies have arisen as the new standards. It provides a perfect opportunity to look at the new standards in place, and see how you can use them to expand your school district's appeal.
If you're looking down the road to a 21st Century Internet-enabled school, start planning for your upgrades now so you're ready when the time comes. A future-focused networking plan, built upon solid ADTRAN or Meraki technology, will provide superior returns to your district for years.