Spotlight on Computer Networking

As the importance and robustness of computer networks continue to grow within K-12 environments, controlling access and security becomes more and more important. Students need constant access to information, and reliable connectivity—but need it without sacrificing safety, security or privacy. Erik Greenwood has served for more than 13 years in his present role as chief technology officer for Anaheim Union School District in Anaheim, Calif., and knows about this balance quite well. He manages the district’s 27,000 end-user devices used by 30,600 secondary students and more than 2,800 employees in the school district’s five-city boundaries.

Q. What are some of the most daunting challenges facing K-12 Schools when it comes to networks?

A. Two challenges come to mind. The ubiquity of connectivity requires more systems to interface, more external threats, and more customers to service. We have come a long way from a limited number of mainframe users to providing access for all staff and students inside and outside the network. We also provide access for parents, strategic partners, service providers, and guests. More users, more points of entries, and more potential threats require an ever-increasing due diligence. The other challenge is budget.

Q. For schools planning a new network, or an upgrade, what are some important things that need to be considered?

A. Networks are no longer an IT-only venture. School districts’ IT and Maintenance departments need to be in sync with their respective visions. There must be collaboration with Education regarding curriculum technology in the planning phase. What devices are being used? Are IoT or BYOD in play? What whitelisting needs to occur to make curriculum and programs work correctly? Planning requires getting feedback from all aspects of school operations. It is so much more than space, equipment, pathways, and capacity.

Q. What are some ways to ensure a school network stays secure?

A. While having good network hygiene is important, the most important aspect of a secure network is informed users. Do not get me wrong, strong network practices and equipment are important. However, it is wise users who delete the phishing emails, do not fall prey to social engineering and inform IT when they see something suspicious that add value in keeping the network ecosystem secure.

Q. Are there any new tools that make K-12 IT administrators jobs easier in regards to networks?

A. Great question. I asked my network and project manager, Hector Saldivar. Hector, a network veteran, shared that we use a plethora of network tools for monitoring, IPS, and DLP in addition to SIEM and IPAM.