Although this year’s E-rate cycle has come to a close, it is never too early to start planning for upgrade implementation and your future network management. For school districts that secured funding last cycle and are ready to implement, it’s critical to make sure the end results serve your long-term goals. Below are some tips for managing the installation and ongoing network maintenance to ensure your upgrade is successful for years to come.
Factor potential network design changes into your upgrade
As part of your upgrade, you may need to make changes to the network design. For example, you may need to move from a hub and spoke WAN to a ring network or switch to a new type of wireless controller architecture. If this is the case, be sure to think through traffic flows, routing and VLAN configuration updates, or any additional hardware you may need. If you are upgrading to 1 Gbps or more, make sure you are also running a gigabit-capable wired LAN!
Make time to manage the construction/installation process
Whether you procure a Category 1 service that requires special construction or a Category 2 upgrade with installation services, it is important to be heavily involved in the installation process. This ensures the quality and timeliness of the installation and testing process. You may not need to be as heavily involved during the construction/installation phase, but it is still critical to schedule standing meetings with your provider to check the progress and be aware of delays or issues.
For self-provisioned Category 1 projects, a district project management resource may be required to drive the upgrade. Even if the construction company has their own project manager, a school district counterpart project manager should ensure that the construction company has everything that they need and is adhering to all committed timelines.
Prepare for acceptance testing
Before you sign off on the project with your provider, it’s wise to have a user acceptance testing process. If you receive a box by mail, and it arrives looking like it fell off the back of the truck, you wouldn’t sign for it. The same concept applies to your network infrastructure (or really any other service/product that you pay for.) Acceptance testing helps you to verify that you have been given a clean, working system with functionality as agreed at the start of the project.
Acceptance testing before sign-off is therefore yet another important step you can take to ensure the long-term success of your network upgrade. The criteria for testing should be based on the service level agreements in your contract. At a bare minimum, the following should be tested:
- Lit fiber: latency, throughput, packet loss
- Leased dark fiber or self-provisioned fiber: attenuation and loss budgets
- Wi-Fi: perform a post-installation site survey to verify coverage and signal strength
Reserve time for ongoing support
Finally, a successful network deployment depends on strong ongoing support and maintenance procedures. If your new network includes new features and/or hardware that you have not seen or used before, it’s a good idea for your internal IT team to become familiar with these. If your team is already equipped to support the new network, consider how your existing maintenance policies and procedures need to be updated.
- Maintain updated network diagrams
- Manage assets and inventory on a consistent basis
- Periodically audit and test network equipment
- Monitor bandwidth usage
Ultimately, these best practices will help you create a network that is easy to manage and maintain.
Find more tips and support for school districts here.