Silence is golden: Being ahead of the technology curve delivers zero complaints at QCSD
During his 17-year tenure at Quakertown Community School District (QCSD), Joe Kuzo has continuously pushed to keep the District on the forefront of technology. For over a decade, QCSD – located 29 miles north of Philadelphia – has supported a 1:1 initiative for its 5,500 students and 500 faculty and staff.
“We've always been ahead of the curve because our community and District stand behind technology,” explained Kuzo, QCSD director of technology. “Our kids have a great experience here, and technology is helping to provide that.”
Along with the growing use of Chromebooks for e-learning, the District has also seen increased demand on its network for IoT devices such as VoIP phones, HVAC, door locks, alarms, lighting, 2-way radios and more.
That’s why, as Quakertown’s Cisco wireless infrastructure neared its end-of-life, Kuzo targeted a replacement well ahead of any performance issues. With the upgrade, he looked forward to making the break from the District’s existing networking vendor, which delivered less-than-stellar service.
Proof-Positive since the POC
From the start, Kuzo and team experienced more personal attention and focus on the District’s needs with Aruba. To solidify the decision, Aruba equipped QCSD with a controller and a couple dozen access points (APs) to conduct a proof of concept. Even on that small scale, Kuzo could see clear advantages with Aruba.
Working with Aruba has allowed us to get ahead of the curve on 1:1, BYOD, Cloud and eLearning initiatives. In fact, everything from financials to student information systems to online resources to our phone system relies on our network.Joe Kuzo, Director of Technology
“From day one, the Aruba wireless was easy to manage and proved to our stakeholders that it would meet our needs,” Kuzo said. “And it was definitely a great selling point that Aruba was willing to go the extra mile while standing behind their products.”
Following the POC, the District rolled out over 500 access points (APs), including outdoor APs for the high school stadium. Since the stadium is located a block from school, wireless provides an essential lifeline for PE teachers and coaches during classes, practices and games – and enables communication in the event of a lockdown. Eventually, the District will add outdoor APs district-wide to deliver a seamless roaming experience.
Recently, QCSD needed to upgrade their wired infrastructure and decided a single vendor for wired and wireless made the most sense. Performance, footprint and Dynamic Segmentation for IoT devices, plus simple management and monitoring tools, would give the District an integrated set of solutions while reducing administrative hassles. Built-in warranties – which the incumbent vendor lacked – further sweetened the deal.
Hands-Off Access Control
For visibility and control, ClearPass Policy Manager allows the IT team to centrally manage and set access policies. With the tool, they grant appropriate privileges for wired and wireless access, regardless of the connection method or device ownership. Plus, they’ve gained built-in device profiling, reporting and real-time alerts.
At the outset, Kuzo and the team built rules for Chromebooks and iPads, and designed a guest portal allowing guests and parents to access the Internet easily. Looking ahead, Kuzo anticipates automatically fingerprinting the growing number of IoT devices on the network to better understand traffic types.
When needed, Aruba AirWave allows the team to see where APs are located, if network devices are running properly and how their switches are connected.
In Search of Greater Performance
With the more recent move to Aruba AOS 8, the team added even more network functionality to head off performance issues. AirMatch, built into AOS 8, taps into machine learning to help optimize RF channels automatically. The network self-optimizes channels to provide the best experience possible. The changes were subtle but significant, which Kuzo and the team quickly noticed.
“Wireless connections definitely seem more balanced,” Kuzo said. “We’re not hearing some of the previous complaints where apps may have run more slowly during the day, and I believe that’s because of AirMatch.”
After attending Aruba’s Atmosphere 2018 event, where Kuzo and team saw an Aruba NetInsight demo, they decided that enhanced analytics were the next step. After installing the AI-powered solution, data from NetInsight quickly confirmed Kuzo’s suspicions regarding connectivity issues in certain buildings.
“We saw where we should be turning radios down or changing the power range,” Kuzo said. Even after site surveys, this was something that was missed previously.
The Making of a Great School Year
After the summer upgrade to AOS 8, the Quakertown IT team found the start of the new academic year quieter than usual – at least where the network is concerned. Kuzo also notes stronger connectivity, as evidenced by fewer client drops. That improved connectivity has translated into no blips during critical testing times or when accessing their largest platform, the Canvas learning management system (LMS).
“We’ve literally had zero issues since the start of the school year, which is pretty unusual,” Kuzo said. “That’s even with adding two more grades of 1:1 access simultaneously with state testing at the middle school level.”
The team’s two network engineers have also seen a decrease in the time they spend maintaining and troubleshooting the network. Now, they focus on adding functionality, instead of break fix tasks.
After the District’s experience with its previous vendor, the level of response and attention from Aruba has been a welcome change. Aruba has a portfolio that addresses the network and security needs of a growing school district and quickly takes care of any issues that arise.
In terms of support, Kuzo notes, “By utilizing Aruba Foundation Care, we have a better ability to get direction, advice and support of advanced configurations. The ease of access to a higher level of support simply adds to their dedication to help their customers regardless of size.”
“With Aruba, there’s always someone available, even if it’s just a quick question,” Kuzo said. “We didn’t have that with our previous vendor. We were just another customer to them. Our Aruba experience is that service really is ‘Customer First, Customer Last.’”