The ever-changing technology infrastructure needs of today’s schools
By Todd Dameron
Published: November 3, 2021
It’s no secret that today’s classrooms look and operate a lot differently than even just a few years ago. Whether it’s allowing students to attend class remotely or ensuring teachers and administrators can communicate across campus, technology plays an increasingly important role in education. We see this shift across all levels of education – from kindergarten to postgraduate – and in practically every corner of the country.
Schools have traditionally used tech for two purposes: communication and data sharing. While voice and data are still at the core of what schools require, their needs have gone far beyond that. There are now countless devices and individuals tapping into the network, and people need more bandwidth, faster speeds and greater reliability than ever before.
When investing in technology within a school, you must consider three sets of customers. First, the students. What do they need to get the best education, and are there tools and resources that could improve the experience? Second, there are the teachers and administrators, who require not only technology that meets their needs, but also the training and education necessary to operate it without issues. And third are parents, who need to know they can reach their child in the event of an emergency without encountering lag times or dropped signals.
The IT needs of one school can look a lot different from those of another, and therefore a tailored approach is required. A one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work if it fails to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. This is how we approached our work with the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics and developed a solution custom to them.
Corning’s work with the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics: Building a technology infrastructure
We started working with the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics (NCSSM) nearly eight years ago after they came to us about building their school’s IT infrastructure. Our first step was to gather the key players involved, from our team of engineers to the people who would oversee the school’s daily IT maintenance, to get a sense of what exactly they needed. Just as important as it is to select the right technological solutions for a school, it’s also vital that the people who rely on and manage these systems are brought into the process. The IT manager of a school today carries far more responsibility than they did in the past.
We outlined some key considerations for developing a plan of action. First, there was the facility itself – a 100-year-old hospital that serves as the school’s Durham campus. This would entail completely re-cabling the building with the faster, more reliable fiber. There was also the challenge of overcoming spotty cellphone coverage that had impacted other schools in the UNC System.
We knew that the size of the school and the needs of such an academically focused curriculum would mean many people tapping into the network simultaneously. We also had to consider what the school may need five to 10 years down the road.
Corning coordinated with the NCSSM staff, UNC System CIO and North Carolina Department of Information Technology to develop a design that would meet the present and future needs of a second campus in Morganton. They wanted flexibility and the ability to offer active ethernet or a point to multi-point network, as well as a GPON solution. Our software platform ensured the IT manager, who worked hours away in another part of the state, would be able to control operations remotely.
NCSSM went with a more traditional install using fiber between buildings and copper from each IDF to their end devices for the campus in Durham, but for the new campus in Morganton considered using Corning’s Software Defined Local Area Network (SD-LAN) for the seven-building facility. Our SD-LAN portfolio had evolved since the campus in Durham was completed and was more flexible, offering NCSSM the network they needed to meet the needs of faculty, staff, students and parents.
Compared to the traditional solution deployed for the Durham campus, SD-LAN ensured NCSSM had a more robust network that would last longer and provide greater bandwidth capacities over time. SD-LAN would also eliminate the need to replace the wiring over time as the copper ages. While a more significant investment in the short term, the long-term benefits outweighed the costs. After two years of planning and implementation, the school is now set to open its doors to students in fall 2022.
Acting as a technology partner to education systems nationwide
Our collaboration with the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics is just one example of how we’re working with schools across our footprint to bring them into the future. NCSSM is one of 17 schools in the UNC System, and this install will allow us the opportunity to work with the other schools within the system for their future IT infrastructures needs. Schools are going to continue needing faster, more reliable connections well into the future, and we see ourselves as the premier partner for educational institutions.
It’s critical to understand what your customer needs, and we place that understanding at the core of our relationships. We know that the decision-making process for IT doesn’t commonly fall to just one person and instead requires input from several people. Our team knows the level of investment this requires and finds a tailored solution that will satisfy everyone and ultimately deliver the functionality required.
The digital transformation we’re witnessing in education is only going to expand. Schools can’t just think about the students who sit in their classrooms now, but instead must account for those who will walk through their halls for decades to come.
For more information, please visit our indoor connectivity solutions.