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31 May, 2016

What’s driving WAN architecture for K-12 schools?

School students represent the economic future of the country and preparing students for this role is increasingly dependent on the connected experience.

Nick Cross, AARNet’s Education Outreach Manager spoke at the Australian Independent Schools (AIS) ICT Leadership conference held in Canberra recently about the amplifying drivers that continue to push demand for bandwidth in K-12 schools in the order of 50% year on year.

Of the population of 24 million Australians, 3.75 million are school students, a number which grows at a rate of 1.5% per annum. Each student attends one of 9400 schools, two thirds of which are primary schools. In AARNet’s engagement with the K-12 community it is rare to come across a school that exclaims ‘We have all the bandwidth we need to meet our learning objectives’. If you have children of school age or a friend who is a teacher, you can easily qualify this claim.

There is a range of amplifying drivers that continue to push demand for bandwidth. Three of these are:

Consumerism – The Rise of the Machines

The proliferation of consumer devices has placed pressure on schools to embrace the broad range of devices in supporting students with their learning. One-to-one laptop programs were first introduced into schools in 1990 at Methodist Ladies College in Kew. In the subsequent 25 years there are now very few schools that do not have high degrees of device infusion. The access device is their window on the world.

FIGURE 1 (Source: ABS Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, Apr 2012)

74% of 14-17 year olds use a computer to access the internet. 80% own or have a Smartphone, with 65% using a mobile phone access data services (Roy Morgan Single Source, June 2015). By comparison the numbers in the United States are 73% and 91% respectively ( Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015, Pew Research Internet Project, 9 April 2015), and a plausible trajectory for Australia. Even the youngest of school age students are users of the network (Figure 1).

For a more detailed analysis of network usage by young Australians the ACMA have research snapshot available titled Aussie Teens and Kids Online that is both current and insightful.

FIGURE 2 (Source: adapted from Aussie Teens and Kids Online)

Regardless of form factor and operating system each device shares one binding attribute; they each require access to a network. The simple growth in numbers places increasing demands on school’s connectivity (Figure 2). Outside of the home the school is the primary access location. This is due in large part to the ‘access facilitation’ function imposed on schools by students and teachers for accessing digital resource and has propelled significant investment in LAN (Local Area Network) and WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) infrastructures.

Rich Media – The Digitisation of Curricula

A fundamental shift for resource delivery over the past decade is the decline of printed materials and the growth of digital resources delivered from outside of the school gate. Initiatives such as the Learning Field leverage a Spotify style distribution model where teachers and students can select digital texts from a large range of publishers in a manner largely substituting the printed text.

Specialised on-demand video library services such as Enhance TV and Clickview enhance the wealth of curriculum resources available on YouTube and other mainstream video services. Amplify the range of resources with the appetite for HD quality video delivered to the access device at low latency and it is easy to see the demand characteristics this has on connectivity requirements.

Figure 3

The Video Quality Report provided by Google (Figure 3) provides an indication on the experience a user may expect from their Service Provider. AARNet consistently sits at above 90% for HD quality video delivery (Note: the 10% of SD video delivered across the AARNet network is largely related to third party last mile circuit capabilities of school aggregations.) and demonstrates the peak demand curve around school attendance hours. It is worth noting these metrics are related to service delivery to sites with hundreds and often thousands of students sitting behind a single connection and demonstrates the effectiveness of a for-purpose R&E network architecture.

Cloud – Hosted Service Capability

The expansion the cloud services market and the competitive growth of the commercial data centre market provides a range of opportunities for AARNet direct connect schools to modernise and streamline their service infrastructures.

A number of independent schools are close to entirely moving their workloads and service capability outside of the school in a range of distributed strategies that span AWS, Azure and commercial data centres. The key enabler to this approach is connectivity to the school via optical circuits.

Another service delivery model that is proving popular with independent schools is a LAN extension strategy whereby a private circuit to a commercial data centre where the school establishes a presence and shifts their public edge to the data centre (Figure 4). The benefits of this approach include:

  • Reduction of capital expenditure on building and maintaining a data centre at the school and moving to a more flexible operational model at a for purpose facility.
  • A WAN (Wide Area Network) infrastructure that is scalable and provides an accustomed LAN experience.
  • Efficient access to resources outside of school hours.
Figure 4

AARNet also directly connects state government schools and is currently working to establish the following architecture for a High School of 600 students (Figure 5):

Figure 5

Service and Architecture Features:

  • 1 Gbps Direct Connect optical circuit w/ AARNet 4 Internet Access Service
  • Layer 3 MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) VPN (virtual private network) to facilitate hosted telephony/unified communications
  • Layer 2 MPLS point to point private circuit to Amazon Web Services
  • Zoom cloud based video conferencing
  • AARNet On-Net access to O365 for staff and student use via direct peering


These are but a snapshot of the infrastructure dynamics impacting schools and the manner in which AARNet provides high quality and scalable long term outcomes.

For more information, please contact us.