A guest post by @PrimaryICTMedia
When the decision is made by a school to invest in either a 1 to 1 iPad deployment or the purchase of class sets of devices, its very easy to overlook some of the technical prerequisites that you need to meet.
In order to maximize the chances of the roll out being a success, you need to make sure that your infrastructure is up to the job.
Here are just a few things to think about:
A ROBUST WIRELESS NETWORK
The success of any iPad, iPod or tablet deployment hinges on connectivity. iPads (and most other tablets) have been designed to be wireless only, so if your wireless in intermittent, then so will be the user experience.
The way that the devices are used also has a bearing on whether your wireless is up to the job. Tablets are small and portable, users want to be able to take them with them, work on the go or just generally roam around.
In this example, many older style wireless networks wouldn’t be up to the job. When roaming around the campus, users would experience network disconnects as they moved out of range of one access point (AP) and into range of another.
Nearly every modern wireless network has built in “hand off” capabilities where one AP seamlessly hand off to another without any loss of service.
Technology moves on at a rapid pace, even if you invested a significant amount in a wireless network 5 years ago, this may not be fit for purpose today.
Centralized management is also something to look for. We recommend wireless from Cisco Meraki to our clients. The Meraki solution is web based so you can manage it from anywhere in the world, the access points need zero configuration on site as everything is done from the web console.
As everything is centrally managed, you can deploy network wide changes within minutes, rather than days – this is especially useful if you have multiple sites – it works seamlessly.
If you wish to invest in a class set of iPads, then you need to make sure that they wireless access points are deployed optimally. If you have 60 iPads all trying to connect to a single access point, then even modern high power devices may struggle with the sheer number of connections.
If you know where the devices are going to get the most use, then you can locate an appropriate number of access points in the correct locations, avoiding any connectivity issues down the line.
Investing in a robust and future proof wireless network before any major iPad deployment will reap the benefits in the future, not just from reduced operating costs, but in time saved during deployment and ongoing management.
You would be surprised how many times we have come across ICT projects in schools because of a poor Internet connection.
We recently worked with a school where they were struggling to effectively use the ICT equipment they already had due to having an incredibly poor Internet connection.
The school were utilizing a home user grade Internet connection with speeds barely hitting 1.5Mbs. At home with only a handful of users, I would class this speed as barely tolerable. However imagine a school ICT suite where all the students are trying to watch a video on Youtube, quite frankly it was a disaster.
We contacted BT and discovered that fibre had just been enabled locally so we proceeded and moved the school over from 1.5Mbs to an average of 45Mbs on the new service.
This revolutionized the way that ICT was now taught in school, Teachers were confident that when they wanted to use services like Youtube in their lessons that it would work. Remote access systems suddenly sprung to life and VLE usage went through the roof.
And the ultimate upside is that the new faster fibre worked out a fiver cheaper per month than the old ADSL.
A “CACHING” SERVER
This is more of a “want” rather than a “need” but a caching server more than pays for itself in time saved.
If you have a class set of iPads, say 30 devices, and you push an app down onto them like iMovie then you are in for a bit of a wait.
iMovie is a fairly large app weighing in at about 500Mb. If you are downloading it 30 times, then that’s 15Gb of data being downloaded. Even fast fibre connections will take a while for this to complete, and that’s before the app even gets installed to the iPads.
What a caching server does is monitor the requests for apps and data from the web, it takes a copy of the first download (the caching bit) then any further requests for the same data get served from the local server rather than from the web.
In our quick example, one iPad would download the iMovie app, all 500Mb of it, and a copy will be stored on the local network. The remaining 29 requests would all be installed from the local network. This reduces our download from 15000Mb (15Gb) to 500Mb (0.5Gb).
This is an example based on a single app, if you are setting up an iPad trolley from scratch, you may be installing 20+ apps – think of the time and data savings.
Incidentally, its not just app data that gets cached, any media downloaded via iTunes or Apple updates will also get cached and served locally, so this is a big benefit if you have other Macs in your school.
The caching server software is part of Apple OSX Server and although we recommend some dedicated hardware for it, it can be installed on existing Apple hardware.
The moral of the story is that you really need to make sure that your existing infrastructure is up to scratch before you take the plunge and make that big investment.
By spending a little now, you’ll be sure to lay the foundations for a successful ongoing deployment and maximize the return on your investment.