To say that K-12 school systems have challenges is an understatement. COVID forced schools to make a dramatic turn towards remote learning, which meant the network was anything but insular, forcing IT to efficiently support thousands of new remote endpoints.
That is on top of other K-12 network challenges. Issue number one: tight budgets. Most school systems are tight for cash, especially after the financial stresses of COVID and all the millions spent on PPE.
Unlike cash-rich Fortune 500 enterprises, K-12 organizations can’t just rip and replace when something better comes along, or as part of regular refresh cycles. K-12 shops often limp along with legacy gear and applications and tend to have heterogeneous infrastructure built in pieces over years and even decades. This is hard to maintain, and nearly impossible to keep fully updated.
All this infrastructure must be monitored, and one can argue that legacy gear that is less well supported is even more critical to watch than your new state of the art pieces. Meanwhile, even small school districts have multiple campuses and far-flung facilities.
Why Network Monitoring Matters
IT is critical to the K-12 educational mission. When K-12 networks stumble, students may have trouble doing course work, and school administrators are left twiddling their thumbs.
K-12 is no longer Little House on the Prairie with chalk and wood stoves. Today, books and other materials are online, remote classes gather via web portals, and even facilities systems such as building control, security and science labs are all increasingly IT-managed assets.
Keeping all this together is the job of network monitoring.
More and More Devices
Even before COVID, K-12 schools were handing out tablets and laptops with the goal of having every student so equipped. Of course, these machines need to be connected, supported and secured. Which means IT must have a way to find and monitor them. “According to the June 2021 household pulse surveys from the Census Bureau, of the 44 million U.S. households with children in public or private school, over 9 million do not always have access to a computer for educational purposes and nearly 9 million do not have Internet access,” argues the 3 Tech Challenges K-12-Schools will Continue to Face in 2022 blog. “Providing a 1:1 notebook/laptop solution to support this ever-changing environment, and continuing to empower students to achieve more regardless of where learning takes place, is crucial now more than ever.”
Don’t Forget Physical Devices
COVID taught the importance of a great HVAC to keep the air circulating safely. As previously mentioned, laboratories, heat and air conditioning systems, and other smart building technologies all pose serious IT challenges.
These devices must be integrated into the central IT management infrastructure and become part of the overall network that must be watched closely. Failures of these systems can disable heat or AC, putting an early end to the school day, or spoil all the food in the cafeteria.
K-12 WhatsUp Gold Customers: Freehold Regional High School District
The Freehold Regional High School District in Texas had some Texas-sized network issues to overcome. For one, eliminating unauthorized use of precious district network resources. The other? Cleaning up a network messier than a Kindergarten painting table.
These issues were taken care of by Don Markese, Technology Director for Freehold Regional High School District, and his go-to network monitoring solution WhatsUp Gold. “Our network was more or less a mess. Most of the switches were not manageable and I had no tool at all to help me keep everything up and running,” says Markese.
Once WhatsUp Gold came in, the network smoothed dramatically. “If it weren’t for WhatsUp Gold, that unauthorized usage of the network bandwidth likely would have gone unnoticed and continued to have a negative effect on the overall performance of the network. The benefits of having WhatsUp Gold at the head of our network management strategy have already been noticeable. The comprehensiveness of the product has really given me complete control of the network and has greatly enhanced its overall performance,” he added.
Cleaning up the Mess, Blocking Unauthorized Use
After WhatsUp Gold was installed, Markese noticed that there was a large spike in unauthorized bandwidth traffic coming from one of the school buildings. With WhatsUp Gold, he was able to monitor this abnormality over the next couple of days and noticed that this spike was a daily occurrence. As the spike had a detrimental effect on the performance of the entire network, Markese used WhatsUp Gold to determine the source of this unauthorized traffic.
Mini-Case Study: Danville School District
When Jeff Ryan joined the Danville Area School District (DASD) as the Director of Information Technology in 2008, he brought a new vision for the department. His goal was to provide a cost effective yet reliable infrastructure that could sustain business needs while maintaining a thriving learning environment for students.
He had no idea just how important that would be 12 years later, when the COVID-19 health crisis made remote learning a new priority worldwide.
Coming from the business world, Ryan was acutely aware of just how costly downtime can be. At the same time, as someone who takes great pride in operating a lean team and being able to do everything in-house, Ryan wanted a network monitoring solution that empowered that autonomy.
After initially trying SolarWinds, he decided to check out WhatsUp Gold—a solution he had used years prior in the business world.
WhatsUp Gold satisfied the three major requirements for the Danville Area School District, which were:
- Easy implementation, with the IT team able to discover devices and create a network map within hours.
- Detailed statistics and insightful reports into device usage, traffic flow, disk utilization and other critical network benchmarks.
- At-a-glance visibility into the entire network, enabling proactive network monitoring.
Ryan and his team have been hard at work creating a stable network that fully supports the 2,500+ students, teachers and administrators that rely upon it, and the 3 GB of network traffic they generate.
WhatsUp Gold plays a critical role in this process, enabling the district’s IT team to actively monitor nearly 100 devices. With at-a-glance network visibility and real-time alerts sent straight to their phones, the IT team is able to fix errors and identify network usage anomalies well before they’re actually noticed by end-users.
“I don’t like to be surprised when something goes down,” Ryan said. “That’s why I love the WhatsUp Gold dashboard. I can customize it with what’s important to me—I get an instant snapshot of my entire network.”
K-12 networks are all about supporting students. “Today, the impact of anything going wrong is huge—the kids really lose out,” Ryan explained. “With everything up on a second monitor and easily visible, we are better positioned to ensure that doesn’t happen. And in fact, we can even go one step further and really bring value to our students.”
Rear the full Learn How The Danville-Area School District Empowers Remote Learning With WhatsUp Gold case study.
WhatsUp Gold’s Got You Covered
You can work across networks, buildings, and campuses with WhatsUp Gold Distributed Edition, which offers scalable and secure management and monitoring of any number of remote sites from a centralized location. “Out of the box the functionality is amazing. What you see is what you get. When you start to look at the cost/benefits you quickly find that there’s literally no comparison to WhatsUp Gold—it’s a fraction of the cost of other products,” enthused Frederick Brenz, Network-WAN/Telecom Manager, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, Texas, USA.
Passing the FERPA Test
Any federally funded educational institution in America has to abide by FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. In short, these US-based educational institutions must protect student records or risk their funding. “No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy or practice of permitting the release of educational records, or personally identifiable information contained therein other than directory information,” the FERPA rules state.
So, what is an educational record? “Education record means those records, files, documents and other materials which contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution,” and “record is understood to mean any information or data recorded in any medium (e.g., handwriting, print, tapes, film, microfilm, microfiche, any form of electronic data storage,” the America Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) explained.
How Network Monitors Eases FERPA and Other Compliance Rules
Achieving FERPA compliance is much like with other regulations such as GDPR which also focuses on privacy. Here are some items to monitor to keep your network FERPA-ready:
- Any changes to File or Folder ACLs
- Registry Access - adds, changes, and deletions
- User account changes that provide administrator or equivalent permissions
- Active Directory access and changes
- Changes to Groups - adds, changes or deletions
- Windows and SSH login failures and successes
- System events - process start and shutdown
- Application failure, start or shutdown
- IDS and anti-virus logs
- Interfaces for high TCP and UDP traffic
- Server offline or online and reboots
- Access to network infrastructure
- Changes to ACLs on switches, routers or firewalls
- DNS changes
- Web server access and permission changes
- HTTP “404” errors
- FTP server access and file transfers
- Server and workstation logs for intrusion incidents and policy changes
- Access and permission changes to Files, Folders, and Objects containing student records data
You’ll also want an audit trail. Here are some key Window Event Logs to collect:
- Logon Events - Success/Failure
- Account Logons - Success/Failure
- Object Access - Success/Failure
- Process Tracking - Success
- Policy Change - Success/Failure
- Account Management - Success
- Directory Service Access - Success/Failure
- System Events - Success/Failure
Schools also must comply with the PCI-DSS standards if they are handling credit card transactions. Cards are often used for school lunch programs, book sales, tuition payments or myriad other transactions. And of course HIPAA applies to schools’ health records.
For FERPA and other regulations, IT should:
- Collect and store log files for the time required by rules. HIPAA, for instance, mandates logs are kept for 6 years.
- Set up alerts for key events, including access and permission changes to files, folders and objects containing regulated data such as financial, customer, student or health information.
- Create reports that demonstrate compliance efforts.