Background: Wallingford Public Schools is a Connecticut-based K-12 school district comprising two high schools, two middle schools and eight elementary schools. The Wallingford Public Schools, in partnership with families and the community, provide challenging educational opportunities in a caring, respectful, visionary environment that empowers all students to demonstrate high achievement and to lead meaningful lives in a diverse society. As part of its mission, the administration strived to incorporate the latest technological advances to improve student academic achievement. Wallingford developed a comprehensive three-year plan based on the educational goals of the school system, ensuring that technology would be infused into instructional and administrative programs.
Challenges: Wallingford’s greatest security needs were at the high school level, which had the most computer labs and media centers. The district’s two high schools, Lyman Hall High School and Mark T. Sheehan High School, are home to about 2,000 students. There are over 250 computers available for use in the schools’ computer labs and libraries. Students use them for a variety of purposes, such as researching topics via the Internet, writing papers for classes, or gathering images for use in school projects. They were also allowed to access personal e-mail accounts such as Yahoo! and Hotmail.
Wallingford’s IT Director Randy Backus needed insight into the students’ computer activity. Were they putting the IT infrastructure at risk by visiting malicious web sites that could deliver spy ware or viruses onto Wallingford’s network? Were they visiting unauthorized social networking, adult or other inappropriate web sites? He also needed to know if they were downloading unauthorized applications - such as online multiplayer games or streaming audio and video - that would drain bandwidth and cause poor overall network performance.
Wallingford Public Schools also participates in a grant program that required compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a federal law addressing access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA requires schools that receive funding support for Internet access or internal connections to have Internet filtering measures in place.
“Most of the IT people in education share the same problems and issues. We need our technology products to provide significant value, and Omni Manager delivers tremendous functionality at a relatively attractive price. Omni Manager lessens the burden on our IT staff. I spend zero hours per week worrying about managing a server since this application is hosted. No worries about keeping it patched and secure. That time savings alone adds up to several hours per month minimum. The product was simple to implement and the interface is easy to understand. And for parents, it is an invaluable benefit to know they don’t need to worry about their children surfing inappropriate Internet sites while at school.”
Randy Backus, IT Director for Wallingford Public Schools
Issues: A downfall to Wallingford’s existing state-provided filtering software was that it had no reporting capabilities. Backus had some open source tools in place to get information, but reports had to be generated building by building versus one central location, requiring IT staff to physically travel from school to school.
As such, Omni Manager’s detailed reporting capability has proven to be a very useful tool for Wallingford. Until the implementation, Backus had very little visibility into students’ Internet activity. With Omni Manager, he was able to generate reports on all workstation activity, including: the types of web sites being visited, what times they were accessed, and how long the student stayed on the site; which applications were being used and with what frequency; and new applications that had been downloaded and how much bandwidth they were draining. Since they were on the same network, student computer use affected the performance of staff computers as well. If student actions caused the network to go down or slowed its performance, it would cause issues with administrative and classroom productivity as well.
Solution provided by QED Connect, Inc.: Wallingford implemented QED Connect’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, Omni Manager. Omni Manager combined several important security applications, including Internet and email filtering and reporting, application usage monitoring and policy management, into one hosted service that was deployable to all computers and laptops, regardless of their physical or geographic location. Omni Manager was initially installed on 250 computers in Lyman Hall and Mark T. Sheehan High Schools.
Omni Manager’s hosted nature was a significant benefit to Backus. Instead of having to address each security application individually by purchasing multiple packaged software products, Wallingford was able to cost-effectively deploy an ‘all-in-one’ service. And with reasonable per seat pricing, Omni Manager easily fit within the school’s budget.
Omni Manager also gave Wallingford the forensics tools they needed at their fingertips. It takes only minutes to get information, enabling Backus to determine where problems lie and take corrective action, such as modifying the types of sites they’re blocking, uninstalling applications, or creating new policies that divert inappropriate activity. For example, Backus identified several dozen game sites that students had been able to get to despite the existing state-provided filtering system being in place. Since there are a number of appropriate and useful game sites out there, such as lemonade stand or typing tests, Backus does not block all game sites by default. The ones that were identified and subsequently blocked by Omni Manager were not educational in nature and had the potential to negatively impact network performance. Backus ran the two Internet filtering solutions concurrently, providing extra protection in instances when students had found a proxy site that was not being blocked by existing servers.
“There are a large number of computers in use from dawn to dusk, which presents challenges in securing the learning environment. I knew that was where we’d get the most benefit from a security solution implementation. We already had state-provided web filtering software in place, but there were additional areas of concern. Blocking inappropriate sites from students is one thing, but there were three other critical issues to address as part of a complete security plan: network visibility, security and performance. And before we had Omni Manger, it took so much time to generate reports that the effort to do it actually outweighed the benefit we got out of it.”
Randy Backus, IT Director for Wallingford Public Schools
Summary: Wallingford’s implementation of Omni Manager has helped it meet its information security challenges. Backus identified the use of several inappropriate web sites within the first 24 hours of using Omni Manager. And by implementing software-as-a-service, the school saved the time and expense of purchasing and installing multiple software products. Backus also reduced his management and administration time, enabling him to focus on other projects. The detailed reporting tools provided visibility into student activity in minutes versus hours or days, so Wallingford could stay ahead of potential problems, including bandwidth hogs that could negatively impact network performance and therefore, productivity as well. Omni Manager’s Internet filtering and blocking provided extra protection for students, identifying and blocking inappropriate sites that had slipped through the school’s existing filtering software.
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