Customer Stories

Enabling Digital Transformation in K-12 Education

By Bob Turner and Rami Rammaha | January 16, 2023

Customer Perspectives

Digital technology promises to revolutionize learning in America’s schools by enabling new experiences and improving communication and collaboration among students, teachers, and parents. However, the digital transformation of K–12 education is not without its challenges, as one school district on the U.S. East Coast recently discovered.

Upgrading the Network to Support Digital Transformation 

The district had made it a priority to roll out a next-generation education platform across its schools and provide devices to all its students. However, this transformation caused a rapid expansion of the network edge, which created significant security gaps in the district's legacy systems and management infrastructure. The infrastructure was also showing signs of age. For example, it faced some failures on its wireless access points, and service support contracts were set to expire.

Resourcing was also an issue. The district has only one primary engineer to support IT across all its schools, and much of his time was spent mitigating issues on network infrastructure point products. The IT engineer identified the need for a single network platform for ease of management, remediation, automation, and control.

The district, therefore, started a search for a unified infrastructure to support its digital transformation, covering switches, access points, and security systems. In the process, it planned to move off its expensive multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) lines to reduce costs and improve the user experience.

The Search for Funding

The story of the district’s network modernization starts with how the project was funded. In early 2021, Fortinet engaged with the district to raise awareness of public funds available through the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, a core part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act COVID-19 relief measures.

Over dozens of meetings, the Fortinet team supported the district’s funding application. The application was reinforced by a high-level solution plan that demonstrated how Fortinet can help build a more effective and efficient network better suited to the needs of the district’s teachers, students, and parents. During this process, Fortinet provided data to support the district’s funding bid. The district chose Fortinet on the basis of its proposal and work commenced on rolling out its new network.

A Full Fabric Network

The Fortinet solution centers on the Fortinet Secure SD-WAN offering, a fast, scalable, and flexible approach that consolidates SD-WAN and next-generation firewall (NGFW) capabilities with advanced routing and zero-trust network access (ZTNA) enforcement. The network is supported by its integration with FortiEDR (endpoint detection and response) for innovative endpoint security with real-time visibility, analysis, intelligence sharing, protection, and remediation. In addition, the district has plans to use FortiVoice Secure Unified Communications—an integrated platform for voice, conferencing, chat, and fax—together with FortiFone IP telephones, and FortiCamera smart security cameras combined with FortiRecorder network recorders.

The district’s network and solutions are managed centrally through the Fortinet Fabric Management Center (FMC) leveraging FortiManager and FortiAnalyzer, a network operations center (NOC) that automates and simplifies network operations and reduces human errors and misconfigurations, two major causes of cyber risk and downtime.

The Fortinet Security Fabric solution includes 24x7 technical support through the FortiCare Service, inclusive of a dedicated technical account manager, who provides direct technical support, operational reviews, and quarterly reporting.

Lower Costs and Greater Control

By moving to the Fortinet Security Fabric, the district has eliminated the need to work with multiple vendors, greatly reducing the complexity of network management. In addition, the solution enables new capabilities including site-specific microsegmentation and enhanced E911 capabilities.

The Fabric solution also plugs the security gaps introduced by the district's legacy network architecture. And thanks to FortiEDR, the district now has an enhanced defense against ransomware, a key threat facing educational institutions. Meanwhile, the FortiCamera devices deliver enhanced object detection and video surveillance for improved school safety.

The district’s network transformation has also significantly reduced costs through the inclusive, five-year FortiCare support package, and by replacing its expensive MPLS connections with a lower-cost internet service provider and private fiber alternatives, connected through the Fortinet Secure SD-WAN. The new connections also significantly improve the performance and reliability of the network compared to the legacy MPLS pipes.

The school district is delighted with the level of integration and control delivered by the Fortinet Security Fabric and is now in a better position to pursue its digital ambitions. The network is the foundation for effective digital innovation. By building its capabilities on the Fortinet Security Fabric, the district is in the best possible position to deliver enhanced and more-secure digital services to its stakeholders in the years ahead.

Find out how to enable digital learning resources while ensuring physical and digital safety of networks and students.