Keeping the 21st Century Classroom Online Requires Power Protection, Racks and Enclosures

If you work in a classroom, you have more than likely been having lots of discussions about technology over the last few years. Maybe it’s about beefing up the wireless infrastructure, getting a higher-speed Internet connection, or moving to a 1:1 computing environment.

Science StudentsAmid these discussions, I wonder how much you’ve talked about how and where you’re going to store all the IT equipment it takes to deliver those services, and how to keep it all up and running in the event of a power disruption. From what I’ve seen, such discussions are not top of mind for most schools – but they should be.

Too often when I visit a school and ask to see the server room I’m escorted to a closet tucked in some indiscreet place, perhaps the janitor’s storage room. There I see a jumble of equipment – servers, routers, switches, wireless gear – sitting on shelves, with wires going every which way and, often, plenty of dust. Sometimes the equipment is tucked into the corner of a classroom, because it happens to be one of the few with air conditioning.

This is no way to treat valuable IT equipment. And by valuable I’m referring not just to how much it costs, although that is certainly significant, but how important it is to the teaching and learning that goes on in schools every day (a topic we covered in this previous post). If you spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on IT gear that is crucial to the educational experience, it makes sense to spend a little more on some proper racks, power and cooling products to protect it.

Power protection

For starters, you need power protection. Most  schools rely heavily on Internet-based resources during the day, whether it’s Google apps or dozens of other online resources.  If that connection goes down, teachers will be left scrambling to substitute another plan for the day’s lesson.

Similarly, most schools have certain applications that need to be online all the time, such as the security tools that ensure safety on the Web, and enable administrators to ensure students aren’t surfing where they shouldn’t be.

Preventing these tools from going down requires the use of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that provide backup power whenever the utility power is unavailable. Depending on where your school is, such disruptions may be frequent, such as in this Alabama district in the U.S. that sees 22 lightning storms per month in the Summer.  It’s important to note that although school is out in the Summer, weather-related power disruptions can wreak serious havoc on IT gear if it’s not properly protected – and that kind of physical damage has expensive implications.

Devices such as routers that provide Internet connections draw relatively little power, so it’s entirely feasible to install a UPS that will power them for multiple hours. Most of the time, that’s enough to get you through until the power comes back on.

Racks and enclosures

Every school should also have at least one IT rack to properly house the routers, switches, storage units, servers and other IT gear. Stacking such equipment on shelves in a storage closet is risky, because it doesn’t offer the ventilation the equipment needs nor the physical security it requires.

In situations where space is at a premium and there’s no room for a proper server room or wiring closet, a purpose-built enclosure may make sense. Many Physical Infrastructure Vendors, APC by Schneider Electric included, have enclosures that are made to be installed in non-dedicated spaces, such as a classroom or administrative office. Such solutions enable schools to house everything they need in an attractive enclosure that looks like another piece of furniture. But they are lockable (providing the security that IT gear requires), virtually soundproof, come in various sizes, and include fans for self-ventilation.

As discussed in  , power protection, racks and enclosures are all eligible for rebates of 20% to 90% under the United States federal government E-rate program.

You spend a lot of money on the IT infrastructure required to drive the 21st century classroom. It makes sense to budget a bit more for power protection, racks or enclosures to ensure those classrooms remain online, even in the face of power disruptions.

To learn best practices on how to ensure technology availability in the 21st century classroom, read our new e-guide.

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