Saturday, 4 April 2009

On the Air

Connectivity is an important issue in all organisations - schools are no exception. The more devices we can have working together sharing information the better as far as we are concerned. We have a pretty good site-wide network at the moment,but most of our network attached devices are desktop PCs attached to the network via ethernet cabling. That's fine for the PCs in PC suites or permanently at the teacher's desk, but it's not particularly flexible.

This is where wireless networks offer an opportunity, but we have to tread carefully. I have had mixed experiences with wireless in the past. Traditionally wireless systems have found the way that schools work problematic - 30 pupils trying to log on at the same time tends to lock up access points (APs). Wireless technology has moved on a long way; switches are more intelligent, bandwidth higher and management software more sophisticated. So, after some small scale aborted attempts to use wireless in the past, we are in the process of tendering for a site-wide wireless network.

We intend to make the most of new technologies where we can. With 802.11n on the horizon we want to ensure that our network will allow us to take advantage of the higher bandwidth offered by this new standard. We also want to ensure that any 'overlay' of wireless access will have distinct 'layers' to allow differentiated access to network resources, such as the Internet.

The key advantages to implementing a wireless network, as far as we see it, are:

  • Greater flexibility in terms of network access. This will be particularly useful for allow the use of a greater range of devices on the network (such as mobile phones, netbooks, PDAs and even other remote devices such as cameras and security resources).
  • Wider access to the network, for instance allowing access to the network from the field.
  • Reducing the need for and the reliance on 'PC labs'.
  • Offering the possibility of wider access to the Internet for all site users, including visitors.

We are working with a number of providers at the moment and hope to have the network installed during the Summer so that we can be up and running by the start of the new academic year.

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