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Cloud Based Web Filtering is a Perfect Fit for K12 Schools

Posted by Geraldine Hunt on Mon, Oct 24th, 2016

When the first compulsory K12 computer initiative was deployed in a school 26 years ago, web filtering was not a consideration.  The initiative happened at a Methodist girl’s school in Melbourne, Australia - the first of its kind in an educational institution anywhere in the world.  The computers were distributed amongst 82 students in the fifth grade under the supervision of three teachers.  The computers were MS-DOS based with no hard drive, no mouse and only a monochrome display. Twelve years later in 2002, the state of Maine became the first state to implement a one-to-one laptop initiative state wide across the U.S. in attempt to transform the classroom with technology.

Today, nearly a third of all middle and high school students in the United States receive some sort of school issued computer device.  A large percentage of the remaining students bring in and utilize some sort of personal device during the school day.  For many school systems it can be a daunting task to manage.  Even smaller K12 school systems must deal with the task of distributing and managing thousands of devices on that type of scale.  For large school systems, it can approach a hundred thousand.

How to manage Internet activity  for K12s

If your K12 system is considering a one-to-one laptop program, the immediate question must be how to manage the Internet activities of those devices.  While school systems in the U.S. must already implement some sort of web filtering system in order to comply with Erate regulations in order to be eligible for Erate funding, implementing content filtering for thousands of student devices can prove a far greater undertaking than protecting the current fleet of stationary desktops and faculty laptops.

The Challenges of One-to-One Laptop Programs

For starters, it’s a numbers game.  A one-to-one implementation can double or even triple the size of your system’s computer fleet.  The web filtering appliance that may have provided ample bandwidth before may prove an impeding bottleneck that can greatly hamper your web performance.  While most school systems take the initiative of increasing the Internet pipe from their service provider prior to the deployment of such an initiative, a 5GB pipe will have little bearing if your traffic must flow through a 1GB web filtering appliance.  In addition, any type of filtering results in some degree of latency, which can contribute to considerable delays when thousands of student laptop sessions occur simultaneously.

For IT departments at K12s transitioning to non-hardware solutions is imperative

Some content filtering appliance vendors compensate for this increased traffic through load balancing utilizing some sort of round robin like system.  The problem with this solution is that it requires multiple appliances, which demands more space in the datacenter, more energy, more cooling, and of course more money.  In an era in which the private sector is turning to software defined solutions in order to reduce the array of the endless network devices that must be routinely managed, K12 systems must begin transitioning to non-hardware solutions as well in order to alleviate the workload from IT staffs that are already uncomfortably over stretched.

Filtering student devices when they leave the school building

There is a fine-balance on what has to be allowed and what security measures can be put into place. And then there is the dilemma of how to control Internet activities once the student takes the device off campus.  For many families, the school laptop may be the first computer the child has had at home.  Many schools have underestimated the blowback from parents as a result of unmanaged web activity.  In some cases, parents have demanded that the school take the devices back until proper content filtering was enforced.  This type of PR can wreak havoc on a one-to-one initiative.

So how does a K12 system filter web activity for students while at home?  Most filtering solutions utilize some sort of proxy solution in which a locally installed client on each laptop forwards all web traffic that is originated off premise back to the schools’ datacenter where it is forced through the filter once again.  Sometimes this may involve the purchase of yet another appliance or two to serve as proxies to service these requests.  Again, this results in more capital expenditure not to mention the inefficiency of propelling off premise traffic back to the datacenter.  In cases in which the datacenter is down, off premise student devices are unable to reach the Internet at all which can impact homework assignments and exam preparation.

The Advantages of a Cloud Filtering Solution

And then there is the cloud, a solution void of hardware that has to be nurtured and configured by the system’s IT department.  In a world of total mobility, it only makes sense to turn to the cloud for content filtering.  Here are just some of the advantages that a cloud solution offers:

  • Simple, fast and nearly effortless implementation that is absent of network deployments of client applications
  • No need for multiple devices
  • No latency within the datacenter itself
  • Quicker reaction period between the time in which a site vulnerability is discovered and when it is categorized and blocked
  • No need to constantly route web traffic back to the datacenter

There is a reason why the cloud is impacting the IT world so significantly, its architecture is designed for the world today, especially for K12 education.

Are you an IT professional at a school, that wants to ensure sensitive school, student, and staff data and devices are protected?  Talk to a specialist or  Email us at info@titanhq.com with any questions.

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