image sourced from: http://www.networkinghardwares.com/cisco857-k9.html
Over the last couple of years the Internet and the opportunities it offers for learning, have grown exponentially. With this exponential growth has come the parallel expectations of teachers and students for it to deliver content rich resources quickly and effortlessly. Speed as we know with the Internet is king.
The elephant in the room with this rosy view of the new education paradigm’s learning playground, is the infrastructure to deliver this content. It was not very long ago that one connection per school via a 56kbps modem was all that we had to work with, then came ISDN, a quantum leap in speed, then broadband via ADSL and now ADSL2. The trouble is we keep eating more than can be delivered to us quickly enough.
At one school I worked at we literally crashed the Internet, well the Internet connection. We had recently purchased a school wide Mathletics licence for 720 students with 180+ machines in the school and a 512/512 DSL connection to the internet. One Monday morning shortly after this 29 classes all jumped onto their Mathletics account at 9:10 and grid lock and failure quickly ensued. A classic case of expectations out stripping infrastructure capability.
New Zealand has been patiently waiting for its Government funded UFB (UltraFast Broadband) project to be rolled out. Whilst it has been trialled in some regions, the current state of affairs could not be said to be ‘universal.’ Running in tandem with this has been the SNUP (Schools Network Upgrade Project) which is designed to ensure that all schools in New Zealand have the internal capability to handle the blistering speeds promised by the UFB, when it arrives.
And this is the trouble, we know it is coming but it is taking time for both projects to be rolled out and some estimates say that the project is still 5 years away from completion, schools and students can not wait that long for a fast solution to their internet connection issues. Even two years is too long. If the potential that the Internet promises continues to fail, because of slow connection speeds or bandwidth issues, then teachers who are reluctant users of this technology will be turned away from it. Once put off they are doubly hard to win their trust again. Teacher time is precious and we do not want to waste it.
I have argued before on this blog and in Interface Magazine that THE mission critical infrastructure component in all schools is their connection to the Internet. Most schools rely on a single connection to the Internet and many are now toying with cloud base solutions such as Google Apps. If their Internet connection should fail then they will be blind. With my experience of expectations outstripping capability outlined above, I pondered what to do about this. I sat down with my fantastic tech support company and we thrashed out what at the time we thought was an elegant solution, and it was. We introduced the notion of redundancy.
Instead of waiting for the Government’s fast Internet connection, we built our own through redundancy. What we did was purchase an ADSL modem for every telephone line coming into the school. We then allocated specific computers to specific IP ranges to each modem. The overall effect was that we increased the perceived speed of the internet for an individual user by distributing the load over multiple connections. It was and still remains, an elegant and cheap solution to bandwidth whilst we patiently wait for the UFB to arrive. What this solution meant to us was that when we were ‘cabinetised’ and went from DSL to ADSL2 our connection to the internet on each circuit increased overnight to 16mbps.
This solution has now been improved. The tech company I work with have provided this same solution to another school I work in but the solution now has a ‘box’ that sits in the school’s main server rack that not only load balances all the connections for up and down traffic, but real time monitors content and viruses. The effect is that the school now enjoys a 60mbps connection to the internet for a fraction of the cost of a conventional fibre connection and all done through the existing telephone infrastructure of the school.
So is 4mbps the new dial up? I think that it is and we need to find elegant and financially viable ways to ensure that we do not let our students languish in the slow lane of the internet. The solution outlined above has several very happy customers, who are waiting with less anxiety for the UFB to be rolled out in their region at some point in the future. You can vote on whether the 4mbps is the new dial up on my Facebook page.