Connectivity, bandwidth, content filtering: monitoring school infrastructure

 Originally published on April 18, 2023 by Shaun Behrens
Last updated on January 23, 2024 • 7 minute read

We generally don’t think about chartered schools in terms of IT. We think of them as places of learning, and if we imagine any processes, we probably picture the ones focused on organizing teaching staff or streamlining lesson schedules. However, digitalization has placed a lot of technical requirements on schools. One example is that schools must be connected to the internet to facilitate online testing; another is the fact that each student brings devices that have to connect to the school’s network. This digitalization brings about unique challenges for schools. To learn more these, and the role that infrastructure monitoring can play, I was recently joined on The Monitoring Experts by Jeremy Cioara and Erik Pope of Veeya, who provide technology services for chartered schools. Read on below or listen to the full podcast episode:

The technological challenges schools face

When Jeremy and his team walk into a school, they are tasked with helping it meet the technical requirements of digitalization. Here are some common challenges that many schools face.

Online student testing

Student testing is crucial for schools; not only is it a benchmark of student progress, but it is also an indicator of the quality of the school itself. That student testing is done online means that schools must have the capability for many students to access the tests at the same time – which puts pretty stringent requirements on both the school network’s bandwidth and the internet connection.

The key to providing reliable connectivity for student testing is the wireless network. As Erik puts it: “Student testing: you pull out a laptop cart, and now instead of two connections to the access point, you have got 30 or 60 connections to the access point. And so that’s one of the things we really try to design and monitor properly.”

And if the school gathers everyone into the same area to do the testing, you’re quickly up to hundreds of devices connecting simultaneously.

To ensure that the infrastructure can handle this kind of load, Veeya uses monitoring to test capacity and other factors. They also monitor the availability of the wireless network, bandwidth usage, the uplink to the internet, and the services that the students connect to online to do the testing, among other metrics.

Capacity planning

Another challenge is ensuring that the infrastructure keeps up with growing requirements. “So as schools get more and more connected to the cloud or connected to IT in general, there are more and more devices”, Erik explains. Because of this, Veeya monitors the number of connected devices and bandwidth usage over time. This helps them predict when to upgrade the infrastructure or deploy more access points.

Regulatory requirements

There are also official requirements placed on educational facilities by the federal US government. Schools in the USA get E-Rate funding, which provides partial funding toward getting online. Jeremy explains what this means: “The internet connection and anything that spreads that internet connection through the schools – so firewalls, routers, WAPs, switches, cabling – all get partial government funding to make sure that internet access can be brought in.”

But to receive that funding, schools need to meet certain criteria. One of the biggest aspects of this is content filtering, so schools must ensure they can block unsuitable content.

To ensure their content filtering is working, Veeya typically set up their monitoring tool (in this case, Paessler PRTG) to use a “Get HTTP request” on sites that should be inaccessible. If their monitoring tool can access those sites, it means the filtering is not working.

“By doing that, we can validate for the regulatory that we’re ensuring that it’s set up and functioning for that organization,” Erik says.

From a security point of view, another requirement is that the telephony systems are always up and running. And because of how critical this is, Veeya have extensive monitoring in place.

Erik gives some examples of this: “There are components that change the VoiP signal to an analogue signal that goes over the speakers, so we monitor those devices and make sure they’re functioning. We have Multicasts that go to individual end-point phones, so we can make sure that that packet is being sent.”

Listen to the full episode for more insights

These were just some of the discussion points in the chat with Veeya. Take a listen to the full episode to hear all of the insights. And subscribe to The Monitoring Experts to get regular monitoring insights!