• 2-tier or not 2-tier? Choosing the right network design

Are schools utilising their networks effectively?

A strong network within a school or campus aids in teaching, allowing faculty to create more engaging lesson plans across multiple locations creating a modern working environment for all. 

For schools to run simple day-to-day tasks such as; sharing of printers and scanners, internet access, sharing of files and access to the intranet they must have an existing network. However, to run multiple tasks efficiently a strong network is needed.  A stronger network is often overlooked by schools as it is deemed too expensive to take centre stage of the school’s budget. Schools who have a strengthened network can relish in faster access to more information, improved communication and collaboration and convenient access to software tools.

To have an effective network, schools must first have a tried and tested network design that suits the size and needs of their school. This is why it is imperative that the right hierarchal network design is implemented.

There are two basic designs that schools should be implementing to reap the benefits of faster performance; the typically employed two-tiered model, and the single layer model.

Layers upon layers

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The access layer or the edge of the network, is the first layer where end-devices and extension devices such as IP phones, CCTV or access points are attached. This layer is the first point of negotiation and acts as a layer of security, providing a boundary between the network infrastructure and computing devices.

Within a school or campus, the access-layer needs to be designed carefully with mobility and flexibility in mind. Allowing faculty and students to connect to the network anywhere within the school or campus boundary. This intelligently designed layer must ensure that all devices are associated with the correct network policies and services such as the ability to physically attach to the network, provide device identification and security.

The consolidated core layer is a multi-purpose system that works as a bridge between the two layers providing intelligent access policy function to the rest of the network ensuring the best performance for the most time-critical and time-depended applications.

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The advantage of a two-tiered model over the larger three-tiered model is to reduce the cost of the network while maintaining key features.  Within the two-tier model, schools have two choices, a redundant router model or a consolidated router model.  A redundant model, although more complicated to set up, will mean that if one part of the core layer could fail it wouldn’t impact the network access.

While most schools, both secondary and primary will use a two-tier model, a flatter one-tier model should also be considered by primary schools due to its reduced complexity. This one-layer design will combine the two-layer structure in one easy to manage architecture.  This design is however, limited and only should be considered by a school who has a simple to manage IT estate.

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