School district brings BYOD to 30,000 users

Regarded BYOD as opportunity to provide essential access

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The district saved 50 percent in costs using a next-generation firewall, officials said. Credit: Dell

Managing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment in the corporate world can pose challenges. But imagine the issues for a school district supporting 4,800 employees and 26,000 students across 21 elementary schools, six middle schools and seven high schools.

Hall County Schools in Gainesville, Ga. handles as many as 9,000 devices on its network at any one time. Dealing with the influx of student devices — along with their owners’ penchant for bypassing controls and restrictions — created a big challenge for IT, but one that it needed to overcome to meet district goals. District leaders believed it was essential to help students and teachers use smartphones and tablets to access the district’s cloud-based learning management system, the HallConnect platform.

BYOD and the budget

The district saw BYOD as an opportunity to provide this essential access, while also managing the budget.

“By letting individuals bring their own technology into schools, we offset purchasing costs,” said C.J. Daab, the technology support coordinator at Hall County Schools. “More students and teachers are going to use mobile devices and smartphones to access the district’s network.”

To secure and future-proof its wireless access network, Hall County Schools chose the following solutions from Dell SonicWALL:

  • Aventail E-Class EX9000 Secure Remote Access (SRA) solutions.
  • SuperMassive E10400 next-generation firewall.
  • Content Filtering Service.
  • Application Intelligence and Control.

“We want to bring education to students on their terms,” said Jay Smith, a senior network engineer for the district. “The EX9000 will let students and teachers work remotely at their own pace and style. A teacher can access other schools around the world or teach at multiple locations without leaving the classroom.

Staying ahead of students

The district had previously relied on Cisco ASA firewalls and Websense content filtering in combination with a variety of other products. But the combo wasn’t working.

“Students learned to bypass Websense on the SSL side, and we needed a solution that could block the proxy sites in order to maintain CIPA compliance,” explained Jeremy Hutton, a network engineer for the district. “On top of that, managing black lists and white lists on the Cisco ASA was cumbersome.”

The district also wanted better network monitoring and reporting, as well as single sign-on (SSO) for its 20,000 users. Hall County Schools evaluated filtering solutions from Websense, iPrism, Cymphonix, Blue Coat and other vendors before choosing the service from SonicWALL. Its easy-to-navigate interface was a big selling point as it enables IT to configure and control content filtering from the firewall, which saves money by eliminating the need for a dedicated filtering server and other point solutions.

“Dell SonicWALL saved us up to 50 percent in costs,” affirmed Daab. “Our savings have been two-fold, both in consolidating appliance costs and in reducing overhead of networks administration.”

Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul is an award-winning writer, editor and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at InformationWeek, CNET and PC World. He lives in San Francisco.
Fredric Paul
Tags: BYOD,Technology