In this episode of our Telecom 10 podcast, we speak with Matrix-NDI Account Executive, Jason Cardwell, about how we serve the K-12 education market and some of the technology challenges they face in the post-COVID learning environment.
TANA: Hello and welcome back to the Telecom 10 with Matrix-NDI. My name is Tana, and today I have one of our account executives, Jason Cardwell, with me. And today we are going to dive into IT infrastructure in K-12 education. So, welcome Jason!
JASON: Thank you Tana. It's nice to be here.
TANA: Great! So why don't you give us a little overview of IT infrastructure in schools. I know a lot of people don't think about technology when it comes to K-12 education.
JASON: Yeah, it's a - it can be a broad topic, right, and you can look at it from two perspectives. One is exterior to the buildings of schools itself. And so, each school has access to Internet. So you bring the media of that Internet in. Most schools are looking at diverse pathways. They're looking at ways to replicate Internet. In the event that there was a failure somewhere, they'd have another pathway out.
So that's the first piece of infrastructure. And once that hits a building, the infrastructure needs to be extended from the spot that it enters the building to where the school would like to locate that. Traditionally it's in a data center or a data closet where it's wired back to. That's one part of the IT infrastructure of a school from an exterior perspective.
The second part is, most schools have multiple buildings and those buildings need to be connected together. And many schools have done a really good job at putting infrastructure between the buildings, whether that's fiber or whether you receive different types of Internet connectivity and make the connection. Buildings have infrastructure between them as well, and once that goes inside the building again it needs to be extended to where the data center would go to make the connection for all the data equipment, to bring those buildings onto one ring, if you will, of network infrastructure.
So, the first part is then exterior to the school buildings and the next part would be inside the buildings. Everything comes in, whether it's voice or Internet services, and they're delivered to certain areas of the building which requires infrastructure wiring to extend it, terminate it, to dress that in the IT closets and/or server rooms, and then to connect it into the gear that would then process that voice or data connectivity over the network.
TANA: OK, awesome. So that's a pretty good high-level overview, right? So as far as how these projects are done, what would be a project that you usually see come through from one of your customers, like start to finish?
JASON: Yeah, start to finish would be exterior to the building, right? They want to order up Internet. We'll work with them. We can, we have access to all the carrier partners so we can work with schools and help, you know, solicit what options exist to the addresses that they're looking to bring service into. What are the speeds they’re looking to get to? Are they looking for diverse pathways? What’s sort of the criteria about what they're trying to achieve?
And then we can go out and solicit those bids for them on their behalf, sit down, educate them on what we'll need based on their criteria - the best possible solution at the right price point. We can help them then contract that - get that into place. Then we work with the Internet provider to coordinate time frames, 'cause once it's delivered, then we need to extend it for the schools beyond its entry point. Most carriers won't do that. Some will if you ask them specifically, but many won't and so they still require a third-party company to extend the Internet circuit to wherever the school would like in the building. And we're versed at being able to do that for our schools as well. So that's the first piece of the infrastructure side.
In addition to that, then if you look at projects once the Internet is in place, then within the school - if the school is looking to, let's say, upgrade their access points, right? They may need new data cable. If they're buying an Internet connection that's 10 Gig and they've been at 1 Gig or less, they might not have the infrastructure wiring to process those higher bandwidth speeds. So now we're taking a look at the network holistically and saying, “OK if we're adding higher bandwidth, is there a bottleneck somewhere inside of the business? Is it a cable? is it a data switch? Is it a router?” Could even be the firewall. What needs to be adjusted to support the higher bandwidth to make sure that everyone who's going to utilize it gets to take advantage of it?
TANA: So that actually leads really well into kind of my next question surrounding this. The past few years there's been a lot of changes, obviously, with, you know, people working from home, children being, you know, schooled from home over Zoom and things like that. Did that or did you see a lot of different needs as far as the cable grade and things like that so that the schools could support those tools and those online teams things and zoom calls and video chats?
JASON: Yeah that's a fantastic question. High level, the answer is, “absolutely yes.” In fact, we have been out doing some site surveys for schools since everyone came back into the school. And what they were experiencing is when everyone moved off site, to the best of their abilities, right, teachers, the faculty, the staff - would work with applications now in the cloud and get things set up so they can continue to teach students and do the lessons that are needed to help educate those children. And so, when they came back into the school, if the schools themselves hadn't already factored in an increase in Internet usage and/or infrastructure, because now everything’s in the cloud, and although they're back in the building they're still gonna be going out to the cloud now because they built those lessons plans. Students are used to them. They've figured it out.
So we've been out doing some site surveys because there's been some degradation in Internet usage; access points that are being utilized, much higher throughput needs, and that's caused issues for tablets dropping and other devices where the teachers can't fulfill an actual lesson in the classroom because somewhere along the line the Internet’s failing. And so it's coming to understand, OK what are the pieces of that pathway that the Internet travels, where is a potential bottleneck, and what now needs to be addressed by the school that previously did not need to because this didn't exist prior to COVID.
TANA: Right. That makes sense. So kind of going off of that, that is a barrier obviously for a lot of schools to deal with when they didn't have to think about that before. As far as planning, gaining approval, funding, things like that; Do you see a lot of barriers for schools and decision makers when it comes to looking to gain funding for an IT project, 'cause a lot of people are thinking more about, you know, you think about textbooks, you think about desks, you think about, you know, buses and things like that. But I think technology largely in schools is seen as kind of a secondhand thought, even though it's really important. Do you do you see a lot of customers struggling with approval for funding and things like that?
JASON: Yeah, I have. I can only address it from my perspective in the industry in my own experience, but schools have different means to take a look at funding. Some can go out for a referendum, some will take a look and say, “What are the means we have within our school? Let's take a look at the community. Could we go out for referendum? Could we ask for the money a different way, and could we get approval and what would that look like?”
In the case of schools, E-Rate is a big process that schools go through so working with USAC and the universal service administration company, based on free and reduced lunch, they could look at that as a potential funding path. The challenge we've experienced with schools as our industry has shifted, and most rapidly in the last couple of years to the cloud and cloud-based applications, traditionally, schools have looked for funding and procured technology solutions more on a capital purchase and not necessarily an operational purchase. So, when we look at where the industry is shifted in the applications going into the cloud now, it's becoming an operational model as opposed to the traditional capital. So operational meaning like a subscription-based product.
TANA: So operational meaning like a subscription-based product.
JASON: Exactly. Yep, well said - good clarity - subscription based. And so if schools haven't traditionally done that, now they have to take a look at funding completely different. Because if you're going to go out for a referendum, you can't necessarily look for subscription type pricing in that. So then it's, “How do we make the change and how do we shift?” And the ways that they go about funding maybe hasn't all updated.
An example I mentioned was E-rate. And so your ability to get subscription services for UCAS, for example, or unified communications service - that's not an option through E-rate funding right now. So how schools have to do it is going to become more difficult. I think at some level there's going to have to be some changes at the government, there's going to have to be a better understanding for schools about how they're going to now procure things. But based on my experience, that definitely is a challenge today.
TANA: OK, that makes sense.
Well, we're running out of time for today. We'll definitely dive into a few more of these topics surrounding IT infrastructure in schools. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jason.
JASON: Yeah, you're welcome Tana. I appreciate being here. Thank You.
TANA: And thank you guys for tuning into this episode of the Telecom 10 with Matrix-NDI. Again, my name is Tana, and if you would like to learn more about Matrix-NDI you can find our website at www.matrix-ndi.com, or you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the handle @matrix_NDI.