Welcome to switched on thinking a podcast that explores the real world networking challenges faced by businesses of today and the future. Twice a month we deliver insightful and informative analysis of the key role that networking technology plays in driving business success and ensuring business continuity. switched on thinking is brought to you by Netgear, delivering innovative networking solutions you can count on, so you can spend more time on what matters most growing your business. Now, here's your host, acclaimed author and tech columnist, Neil C. Hughes.
Welcome back to The switched on thinking podcast now we have covered so many topics in this first series, but today I want to focus on an area that has been affected more than most and that is education. Because connectivity is now crucial to learning lockdowns this year are forced many around the world to learn remotely. And what kind of challenges have schools face this year? And how are they overcoming Wi Fi issues and old buildings with thick walls. So when I heard about an inspiring story at Trinity Pawling school in New York, which was founded in 1907, and that to overcome so many of those problems, I felt compelled to find out more so today, I've invited Brian Turner from Trinity Pauling, and also Alexandra from Netgear to learn more about the experiences they face this year, and how they've worked together to provide students with the networks that they expect a standard now, so a massive warm welcome to the show. Can you tell the listeners a little about who you are and what you do?
Yes. Hi. Thank you very much for having me today. So my name is Alexandra mehat. I go with Alex, whatever is easier for you guys. And I'm the SMB Product Marketing Director at Netgear. So I oversee all the content and messaging for all the Netgear business products, so switches, wireless business router storage, and I have an awesome team of five people helping me out.
Hi, my name is Brian Turner, and I am the director of it at Trinity Pawling School, located in pulling New York, which is about a hour and a half north of the city. I've been here a trainee palling for a little over two years now. And prior to that I've had numerous roles as a director of a bank, financial industries, consulting all across the board. My main focus is on security. But I've dabbled in everything from networking all the way on through. And it's a pleasure to be here.
What a big warm welcome to both of you so much. I'm excited to talk about today. And one of the big reasons I invited you on Brian was to talk about the world of education because there has been a lot of acceptance for remote learning and edtech, etc. But just to set the scene, Brian, can you tell me a little bit more about how schools are becoming more connected than ever?
Well, in today's world, it's just been utterly crazy. changing the way we learn is been a whole new facet for every school and every education facility across the world with work from home remote, all the interconnections that kind of spurred from government closings, to mandates, and everything in between schools have had to adapt to technology and new thinking, new new processes of how we do everything, our students, and the connections have to be real and stable. And so we've had to lift and shift everything from this in person immersive learning to this new online experience. And the experience has to match up whether in person learning, and without having that kind of connection with people. It does not succeed. So schools have had a massive challenge, especially in the last six months to the last year on remote learning, turning everything around and doing now hybrid learning as we've been coming back in the fall for school learning, how do we immersively captivate everybody's attention not only in person in the class, but those that are comfortable are not able to attend in person learning to be as inclusive as the ones in front of you. So there's been lots of challenges, and the only way to be successful is to have a good working infrastructure across all facets of the organisation.
Thanks Brian and Alex I'm curious, do you work with many schools at net gear and have you particularly noticed an increase in schools coming in asking for your help after the events this year?
Definitely, we work with schools all over the world. I mean, for example, Brian school in the US, but also schools in China that have a lot of kids in there. Also schools in, in Europe in a lot in the Netherlands, like pretty small preschools or elementary schools over there. And what they all want is, of course, always on connectivity, like a network that just works and make sure that every single student can be connected at the same time. So, of course, there are the challenges where you have still school is in person. So Europe still has schools in person, even though for example, in France, they're still on lockdown, they still go to school. And there's a lot more of elearning of kids, every single kids kid has a computer, a laptop, or a Chromebook here in the US, for example. And they need to be all connected at once. They need to be able to learn with their teacher, all at the same time and not have glitches because of networking. And also, in this new in person learning schools are well, classes are smaller, they have less kids per school. So they need to have like kind of pop ups classes, or new areas in this cool way. They add some classes, to be able to have less kids per per classroom, and your network has to help out with this too. For example, and Netgear, we have what we called Instant mesh where you can directly put a Wi Fi access point without any cables in one of these classes, for example, and have your Wi Fi right away. So there's been a lot of needs, and a lot of requests for that type of connectivity. And of course, kids that are still remote and still learning from home, need great Wi Fi in the house. And there they need to share their Wi Fi with the family, with their parents also working from home, and everything. So you need this, this great Wi Fi for everybody. And you need also to separate potentially the Wi Fi between each of them to make sure you have a dedicated secure Wi Fi for everyone. So that's where Netgear has the products across all all of this with also centralised managed management, which which is also one of the the key aspects we can discuss here in this podcast. And that that Brian is using to and yeah, for sure. There's been a lot of increase in requests specifically from schools because we know schools we know their challenges, as, as Brian explained, and and people we have case studies on various schools and people come to Netgear because they know it's they're going to have they're always on reliable and secure networking for all the different aspects in person, hybrid, or remote.
And I think because of the speed of change this year, it has caught many out for example, I know my son's girlfriend, who's gone to university this year, student accommodation had no no Wi Fi, then bad Wi Fi. And they're not expected to learn remotely. And it just, it can almost ruin the university experience or the education experience. I know Brian, you run into a few problems yourself on very similar subjects here. But before picking up the phone or even speaking to Netgear. Can you tell me a bit more about the kind of problems that you encountered with your school and and how you try to fix them and the experiences that you've had along the way too? It's quite a story there isn't that?
Yeah, when I came on board here, we did a full evaluation of our network and all the stuff that we currently have in place. And one of the things I found was the backbone infrastructure was using some that we had some fibre was kind of older fibre. And we've been putting in some new 10 gig single mode fibre all around campus. And when I first started this project, I, I kind of saw the shift of all the education products and software as a service and all the different components that the education world has been using has been going more and more towards the cloud. And with that, you need a good solid backbone infrastructure, especially around your campus for internet and connectivity and access to all of those cloud provided services. More and more of our servers are been going off and offline as a in house process and infrastructure as more shifting into that space. So with that, I started looking at all the different buildings that we have, as well as the connections connectivity speed throughout the entire campus. And I knew that we need to do something To continue propelling us in the future. So as we started adding the 10 gig lines in, I needed equipment that was going to keep up with it at a decent cost, a very nice price point, as well as having all the functionality of all the things that we were going to need the so there's this way, we could take that budget money and put it into continuously growing the infrastructure. So we evaluated certain vendors and kind of did a whole vendor review what functions we need, what do we what are we going to get out of it. That's how we kind of came upon neck year. And part and parcel with some of the buildings have all been built in the 60s and earlier. So we have these really thick brick walls, steel infrastructure, and most ideally, not for wireless. So we were watching a neck year, and they came out with the W ac 540 wireless access points. And I was looking at doing a new wireless infrastructure in our dorms, as well as some of our infrastructure around campus, we saw that our current solution was not up to par with what we're doing. We had more struggles than what we needed. And we needed to address it. So we waited until those WAC 540s hit the market. As soon as they did, we got right on board, and we bought a couple and we started evaluating them around our campus. And what I originally figured on for numbers, the performance of the WAC 540s really exceeded our expectations, I was calculating or about double of what we were going to need in every dorm. And we only need half of that evaluation, which is pretty impressive. For the wireless penetration, the wireless signalling for every dorm room, that we can even expand our finances and our funding even further. Instead of just accomplishing one dorm, we were able to accomplish 234 dorms as we continue into the project. So with all these evaluations, NEC year has always shown that they're not just a competing force, but they are a high end force within this market space to help us grow our infrastructure, and to provide the best backbone for our students.
What really stands out from that story there, Brian, you were working with a vendor who came in advise you the best equipment to use etc. And he had nothing but pain points. And then you didn't even go to that guy. I'm going to do this research my own and then picking up that original Netgear device from CW on your own and slowly piecing everything together on Yelp and have much better results. Is
that right? Absolutely. Yeah, it was a, you know, we wanted to look at the future. And we started looking at the cloud providers of the new way that wireless has been going. And wireless has been shifting from the old traditional model of the controller access points, and all the hardware bases and licencing, to this really newer model of the subscription base, with the online controller and in the wireless. And the benefits of it really outweighed the traditional solution. And so when we were evaluating, we kind of were looking at do we stay with tradition? Do we go with the new? And so that's when we really started digging into all the different vendors.
And presumably, Brian says security must have played an important factor for you as well. And did you have any kickback? Were you going away doing your own research before you move forward? How did you satisfy and overcome any security concerns that you might have come across?
So we looked at all the functionality of what each provider has. And so we, you know, as as a school, we have a very large campus, and we have people come on for sports and all that not so much right now. But we always provide Internet connectivity for sports. We have the plain sight system, which streams all of our sporting events. And so we want the parents to be fully connected, not just if they're remote, we always wanted everybody to be connected. So we have wireless throughout all those campuses, and we want to make sure that people when they connect, they feel safe and we make sure that we have the client isolation on so that nobody else can communicate Across the board, we we utilise all those different security features within that gear. So that we make sure that we're providing a safe environment, not just for our students, but for everyone who comes and visits us.
And you also spoke earlier, Brian about the challenges with those thick brick walls in an older building. And I'm sure that I resonate with lots of other schools or people in schools listening today. So if we look at how you set up now, can you help listeners understand where you are now the kind of problems you solved and the coverage that your students get now compared to what you had before?
Yeah, so in our dorms, we actually did not have any wireless at all, we every student gets a Ethernet port in their room. And traditionally, they were bringing their own routers, and in using them as well as access points in their rooms. This provided a massive headache for us, because people would plug them in wrong, they wouldn't use them as an access point, they wouldn't configure them. And we console ran into DHCP issues and routing. And it was just, it was such a headache, I spent so much time tracing down these devices and trying to get them all configured correctly for the students. And then as soon as I'd get one fixed, another one would go awry, and somebody would reset it or something else. And it was just a constant focus of keeping them connected and online. And now that we put the wireless throughout each dorm, all of those issues have gone away. My times now focus on more things, I would help them in the future and continuing planning as well as working on infrastructure upgrades. instead of chasing down all the trouble issues. So the thick brick walls, were always a challenge. with everybody bringing in a wireless router, you would get so much signal saturation, because it's just so dense in such a small area. But they wanted their own kind of coverage. Now that we have this wireless, it penetrates through those walls, much farther than we thought we were able to put in devices where it was great for everyone. And it covered the entire area. We did an entire site survey not only prior to our deployment, but after. And the differences were night and day. So much so that I had a colleague who works down in New York City running around the same issue. And they were asking questions to all the directors of it out there. And I recommended the WAC 542. And I explained to them how well our signal was in these highly dense, thick buildings. And the person was really impressed with it. And so I did circle back with them. And I do believe they tried it. I know that they had to move so they were looking for a stop gap. But I do know that I think the person bought three of them to fill those issues. They enjoyed it, they liked it. And they did see the same results that we had the price point of these units compared to other units that are out there is just phenomenally marketable.
It's incredible what you've achieved there and, and Alex in the spring as we all know many classrooms were challenged with becoming remote capable though. I'm curious, Alex did net How did net gear step up to that challenge, because presumably, you would have been incredibly busy very quickly.
That's for sure. Our products, well range from the small access points that you can put even in your house because our products are really business grade. And you can, you can really do work from home and of course to learn from home teach from home even with these products, up to the whole system that covers your whole house, and where you have dedicated Wi Fi for everyone. So for example, we are launching right now a great new little Wi Fi six access point that you just put on your table. Super easy to manage, very easy to instal. And then you have your own dedicated Wi Fi so for your remote learning, even for your remote teaching for the teachers because we're talking about the students but the teachers also need to have the perfect Wi Fi to be able to do the classroom from beginning to end with these kids. And make sure that everybody's connected and then they have their Zoom Room, their break rooms and everything. And we definitely have everything in between this brand new little product and this whole home Warby pro Wi Fi for example. And some of them also can be fully managed centrally. And so you can even have Brian manage these. These insect manage access points from from his home almost right and make sure that all the kids can be can help Perfect remote learning. So we were already prepared for that we we had all the products, we have all the choice you would need.
I'm glad you mentioned that because for most people listening, they'll be aware of Netgear devices. And students. All they want is that all those high speed internet connections, but for that IT teams listening, they want to know how they're going to manage that network remotely at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, just as they're about to, to eat. So Alex, can you tell me a little bit more about insight remote management and why it's so important to tech teams right now?
Well, yeah, we have a solution. So called Netgear insight, where you can manage either from your smartphone, or from your laptop from a browser, and you can manage multiple locations. If you have the inside pro version, you can even manage multiple customers if you have value added resellers who want to manage multiple schools, for example. And there are pretty cool features in there. For example, if you have your wireless access point connected to your POV switch from your home, or from another school or another location, you can easily just simply power cycle the port, just put it off and on again. And then you will reboot your wireless access points from anywhere. So here you solve, like 90% of the cases, I'm not at the IT guy here, but I'm sure Brian would agree on this one, it definitely saves you a trip to the office or to the school, when you're home. And it's like it's your day off, maybe you don't want to go have to drive to the school just to reboot an access point, for sure. And other cool features, for example, peewee scheduling, that's very important for schools to wear out of hours outside of the hours, you can schedule where you when these ports, these ports go on and off. So meaning that the Wi Fi goes on or off. So your your Wi Fi can be off after hours when no kids or when those staff are in the school. And then nobody will hacks into your system, nobody tries to get in your Wi Fi. It's just not connected. And you can automatically set this up very easily through through the inside app and then have notification alerts and monitor from from anywhere, even on your home network. So if you use one of the inside manage the access points,
incredibly cool. And Brian, I take it it's been a get out of jail free card for you on more than one occasion. In the middle of an afternoon when your day off. Is that right?
Yeah, absolutely. There's been many times that I've actually logged into the insight system, either after hours just to do either a firmware upgrade. And it's phenomenally easy that you just have all of your devices right there. And you just click update all and boom, everything goes you don't have to sign into every single device, which makes the management of it far more easier than having to login to hundreds of devices and constantly having to do with those firmware updates. I've also been out on a beach in Rhode Island one summer when there was a problem. And I was able to log in and right there from the beach, on vacation on there on my phone tapping away and rebooting stuff, as well as checking network connectivity for the person that was saying they had some problems. So it definitely saved me from having to drive for hours back. It's been a great, great product. And insight is really a growing platform that has just continuously impressed the cost for it is phenomenally cheaper. And for all the features you get out of it is just amazing. Unlike other vendors that when you buy their cloud platform and use their wireless system with it, you can only use that wireless system when you have your subscription fees and everything in place. And the second that that's not the case, then those units just are complete bricks for anyone. But the nice thing about this solution is that not only is it just insight based that the cost is there a phenomenal reduced rate. But the devices work regardless, right. So you know, if you didn't do the insight, you saw a phenomenal product, but you're handicapping yourself for that minimal fee that if you just went into that insight platform, it unlocks so much more potential for your entire organisation and adds more value than one could really imagine being able to do all this remotely connecting to one platform seeing all of your devices that one pane of glass, as the IT people would all say is having that one dashboard. Which the management becomes so much easier as, as it's easier for one person to manage versus having more and more teams or more and more people or consulting hours for other people. to constantly look at all of your stuff becoming that dashboard, you can see clients connected, you can see the utilizations, you can see who's using so much bandwidth or not, not not so much. And with all of that insight to insight, it really provides a great knowledge for IT professionals knowing what's happening in their environment,
how to look to see the look on your face after you completed that live technical fix from a beach. That's the magic of high fiving people.
I was I was just extremely happy. I didn't have to turn around, go back four hours back just to do one small thing.
Yeah. So Brian, obviously, you did a lot of research yourself. But I've got to ask how important was after sales support and warranties because I know it's the unsexy side of it. But it's possibly one of the most important tools. So how did you deal with them?
Yeah, warranties are always important, because you want to know the company stands behind their product, and how they stand behind it. So when we evaluated all the different vendors, you know, we want to know that they're in this for the long haul. And I know Nick your business class on the believe that called the blue box, or neither the grey box side, but on their business class models, they've got a lifetime warranty on their devices, which is none other. You know, it's similar with some of the other vendors. And when I was looking at the neck year insight, and I started doing the cost comparison, the cost comparison, the insights, devices, inside switches and wireless access points, come with a five year hardware warranty. And I started evaluating Should I go that traditional model that lifetime warranty, or this five year warranty, and I started looking at all those different cost analysis perspectives, as well as all the different things and features that are out there. And everything kept leaning towards the insight, insight cost of the switches, or half the cost of the lifetime switches. And so even in five years from now, if I had to buy a new switch, because the hardware warranty was done, when I'd have to buy the new switch five years from now, that technology is going to change. And even as much as it doesn't change. Even if I go 10 years, there's definitely going to be a technology change between now and 10 years, between the switches, and more importantly, the wireless access points. So in knowing that, in five years and 10 years, I'm fully covered with these devices, that gives me the knowing that they're going to support it all the way on through. And when the new stuff is coming out, we have to keep up with it as well. But it's at that price point that makes it so attractive that you just go why not. And instead of it being this huge under tasking thing and massive project, you know, we can start replacing these access points little by little because the inside platform allows us to grow with it. We're not stuck with a controller only supporting certain devices, this inside platform is going to support it and support it and support and support it. So we're not going to get stuck in that end of life full mentality on the controller side. And as we're going to be replacing these units five years from now, or as we're adding new units to it, we can have that mixed environment relatively easily with that inside platform.
And Alex I assume there that after sales support and offering your customers peace of mind is incredibly important to you too. And and that's why you offer so many different packages. There's that right?
Definitely after sales support is totally key at that gear. And once again, this this partnership with our customers. Actually Brian saw some of our switches or smart pro switches are now inside manage and they have lifetime warranty to you have all these included. So we were also trying to include and not have surprises at the end of the day like lifetime warranty is included in the price. We also include a one year of insight in some of our switches and wireless access points. So for the first year, your insight is included in the price of your purchase. As you said the prices is pretty low after the first year so you I'm sure you'll get all the experience and what you need in order so that you keep on using insight after the first year so we were really trying to include things so that it's not a surprise at the end. of the day so that you know what you're, what you're buying what the budget is, some of those switches have this lifetime warranty and also next business day replacement. So even if you have an issue with your switch following day, you have a new switch in your premises. So we really want our customers to have everything not have to worry. And really, we're here to help them and be their best partners for networking all the way. But
it does feel like an incredibly exciting space to be in for you at the moment with turning classrooms into hybrid learning solutions. And not to mention the future benefits that Wi Fi six is going to bring to school. But I've got to ask what excites you about the future of education and the classroom and how technology is going to improve what you provide students because ultimately, that's what it's all about, isn't it?
We have really seen a complete paradigm shift in the education space, from interactive learning to this new hybrid solution. And it's been a phenomenal challenge. But it's been really intriguing and exciting. All together, the original idea of online learning is as most University still have, it is more of this self study, here's an article right back. And that's about it. It's just a text based communication. There's no real one on one communicate of learning experience that's been happening. And so a lot of the shift from all the schools has had to go to this online kind of platform to simulate this kind of communication. And we know how important it is to have these interpersonal communications, these lockdowns have done nothing but show us how important not only the communication is, but how important connection is with one another. And so we understand those risks, right? We understand there's challenges with all of it. But we want to make sure that when we approach this, we approach it with that mentality in place. And so as we look at the technology and the growth, we have to keep this kind of connection base in our forefront of our mind of how do we stay connected with each other. And in not so much at B, A, just kind of a blanket, here's, here's just an assignment, go do it, but immersive learning. And so Trinity Pauline has been one of the forefront leaders of project based learning where students learned by doing and getting their hands fully into it. And so that's where the technology has been coming. A much more intriguing component of it is that being involved, while even though we're a little distance, but still being fully immersed and fully involved in the entire experience. And that is a cool challenge. And I think we've been doing an excellent job at it. Our students have all appreciated it. with greater technology, we're gonna be able to do more more immersive things between Wi Fi six, that we can get faster speeds and more stable connections to outdoor units, we can put wireless out in our different areas. One of the big challenges that we've been trying to do is we try to get our students outside as much as possible. And with the winter coming, it's going to be harder and harder for us to do that. But we really try to immerse ourselves in our learning we have a pond on campus, we have a pond house that they do science experiments in and so getting internet and having people have that same experience throughout all of our campus is really going to be a phenomenal thing.
What I really love it and what Brian just said is that Wi Fi is the really the background, the base of everything you need good connectivity to be able to, to do everything in the school to to improve all this great experience between the kids and the teachers and and Brian school is also boarding school, they are dorms. What I really loved when when I first met Brian is that the he really cared about the kids. And he was like, I really need to give them good Wi Fi so that even if they're not working, they can do also gaming in a dorm and have the best experience and he he sounded really happy to be able to give that great experience to them so that they can they can entertain themselves outside of work and still have a great Greek life in the school. I'm not saying that Wi Fi brings a great life. It kind of think it does. But you It's really what what Netgear is trying to bring is the great the best technology to help our customers to whether education or businesses or anything, and, and really bring also that trust into technology that helps our schools, for example, get further in the type of education and the online education. It's it's really a partnership. And we're also putting more more products into the market on wireless, of course, doing this Wi Fi six upgrade of all our, our wireless access point to give better speed, better coverage, and therefore meaning having to put less access points and keeping budget for for all the other areas in the school where I know budgets are tight in schools. So they they need to find budget for everything for maybe better classrooms better everything, better entertainment for the kids in the dorms. But for example, Brian did his own site survey. But Netgear also provides a free site survey to help our customers get the best coverage and best technology. So definitely the the wireless experience is very important for Netgear, and we're trying to bring to market products that will help our the schools grow or customers grow, and make sure they have the base to be able to have the perfect learning and the perfect experience in every moment, every time, whatever. What are the determine the challenges you're facing, right?
Well, I've loved chatting with you both today and how you bring these very real stories to life on these podcasts. But before I do let you go Alex, Can you remind everyone listening of where they can find information on anything we've talked about today, any other technology or anything at all, net gear related what was the best way? What should like a website
or a community so website, net gear.com slash business for the business products, and we have our online community and forums where they can Oh, we would love also for people to post their own experience on there and love to see what what they did with our with our products, too. And don't hesitate to reach out to me to of course, if you have any questions.
Well, thank you so much, Alex, for joining me today. And indeed Brian for taking the time to come on here and share your experiences. And I will always remember that remote live fix from a beach in Long Island and that's something that will stick with me for
Can I have the the picture so that I put in my marketing collaterals? I'm sure that would sell right away?
Absolutely. I'm sure it would. But like you said though, Alex, I think it's all about having the trust in the technology, the trust from the it point of view and the school point of view. And the students equally being able to trust in the technology to to help them learn remotely and when they're away from the classroom. But thank you so much to both of you for sharing all that with me today. Thank you. I just love Brian solutions, not problems mindset. I think we could all learn a thing or two from him there, especially after he encountered so many problems working with other vendors. And how he went away did his own research found his own solution, which ended up being net gears products, and it was actually Netgear that reached out to him to learn more about his project and how they could help him take it to the next level. So I think it's a great story and I meant it when I said that Brian solving Wi Fi issues for the school whilst logging in from a beach will stay with me for a long time. But of course, the big winners here are the students. So for me the way that Netgear Trinity Pawling school under students can now trust the tech is a much bigger accomplishment than many might think. So I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. We have one more episode to call this years. I look forward to chatting to you all again very soon, but until then, take care.