Which network model is best for your schools?

by Dennis Pierce

As K-12 leaders think about how to design next-generation education networks that can meet their needs, there are a number of models they can consider.

For instance, with the recent change in E-rate rules, providers of private lit fiber networks have taken more of an interest in working with schools.

How do these networks compare with dedicated or switched Ethernet services?In a new white paper, AT&T looks at the benefits and drawbacks of both network models across three key factors.

1. Simplicity

Providers of private lit fiber offer point-to-point connections with dedicated fiber-optic lines that don’t route through a shared network infrastructure. This network model typically involves a significant up-front cost and requires a long-term lease that can last up to 20 years.

“From a simplicity standpoint, the point-to-point design of a private network is indeed fairly easy to design and manage,” the white paper notes.

Problems could arise if you have to move the fiber lines for any reason, though, such as a public transportation project or the closing or moving of a school building.

“It’s important to understand who will be responsible for the cost and how much network downtime will be required to facilitate the fiber relocation,” the paper says. “If the school is on the hook for the cost, then this could create a budget challenge down the road.”

2. Reliability

Private lit fiber providers often claim there are fewer points of failure for their networks, because their point-to-point services aren’t routed through a shared network infrastructure.

However, if there is a failure—such as from a cut line or weather-related emergency—they might not have network redundancy in place and could be more vulnerable to extended service interruptions.

A large state university experienced this problem earlier this year when a fiber line was cut accidentally, disrupting internet service in several buildings for up to three days and reportedly costing the school millions of dollars.

“It’s important to understand the resources … that your network provider has available to address natural or manmade disasters and to think through the impact to learning that would occur if your network goes down for an extended period of time,” the white paper says.

3. Cost

Many private lit fiber networks are designed so that the school district receives separate point-to-point handoffs at its data center. That means the district is responsible for aggregating these handoffs with router interface cards.

“A less expensive alternative might be available through a service provider that offers circuit aggregation,” the white paper says.

K-12 leaders also should consider the impact of a large, one-time expenditure up front versus monthly recurring fees on their budget.“

Paying these fees up front can help to minimize your monthly recurring charges,” the paper observes, “whereas amortizing the charges over the life of the contract may provide more financial flexibility for other pressing capital expenditures.”

To learn more about how these network models compare, you can download the free white paper here.