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Expanding a School’s WiFi

Aerohive_AP550_Hero_Front_ShadowBy using the latest WiFi protocols and software management, Aerohive’s AP550 access point can be a cure for sick overburdened networks. The small white box uses 4X4 MIMO 802.11ac WiFi technology to push more data farther with the right level of security. The AP550 has a dozen antennas inside, costs $1,399 and it can be remotely controlled. Aerohive has a variety of mounting hardware available for the AP550.

 

Freebee Friday: The Encrypted School

Opera VPN aAll your grades and reports are encrypted on the school’s server, so why is most of your Web work out in the open for the wide world of hackers to view? The simple fact of the matter is that using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can not only allow your Web journeys to be anonymous but everything you type and every place you go is secret and secure.

That’s because a VPN is built around a technique called tunneling that uses a Web browser’s Secure Socket Layer (SSL) security. Everything is encrypted using the powerful 256-bit AES cypher so it stays secret. The problem is that using a VPN requires special hardware at the host, can slow down a connection and cost a lot to operate.

That is until now because the latest version 40 of the Opera browser has a VPN built in. Rather than charging upwards of $60 a year or imposing data limits, it’s free to use as long or often as you like. The back-end of Opera’s VPN is provided by SurfEasy, which has connection infrastructure throughout the world and at any time you can turn it off.

The VPN add-on works with Macs, PCs, Androids and iOS systems, but you need to most recent version of Opera. To use it, all you do is type Control-Shift and N to get to a private Opera online session. The VPN logo shows up next to the address bar. Click on it and then Enable to get things started.

The interface not only shows your current IP address but shows how much data you’ve used. For most VPN’s this is because you need to pay per megabyte or month, but here’s it’s strictly informational. At this point, everything you click on or download is encrypted and is only rendered readable on your computer. Think of it as your own private Web and you get an idea of its potential for schools.

Opera vpn bThe performance is surprisingly good for all the encryption and decryption that takes place behind the scenes. Over the course of several weeks, I used Opera’s VPN for a variety of curriculum, email and online video sites with no discernable slow-down.

For my online connection, that translates into an increase in latency from an average of 15.6- to 19-milliseconds. My online connection downloaded data at 56.8Mbps, down from an unimpeded 61.4Mbps. Uploading data with and without the VPN turned on was unchanged at 26.6Mbps. All of this likely to not even be noticed.

There is one glitch, though: you’ll need to affirmatively click to accept the use of Adobe Flash every time you hit a Web site that uses it. It’s a small price to pay for adding such security for free.

 

Welcome to the 802.11ad Era

R9000_Hero_TransparentIf 2.4- and 5GHz WIFi that 802.11ac affords aren’t enough, Netgear’s Nighthawk X10 router is one of the first to use 802.11ad’s ability to add another ultra-high-speed data channel that uses spectrum in the 60GHz range. The X10 uses the latest Mu-Mimo techniques and can move up to a theoretical 7.2Gbps of data to data hungry users. To get the most out of the X10, teachers and students will need to have the right radio in their computers. Eventually, more and more PCs, tablets and phones will be compliant with 802.11ad, but for now, you’ll need to use a USB add-on. Inside, the X10 has a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, six gigabit wired LAN outlets and a pair of USB 3.0 ports for hard drives or printers. The router has four active antennas that glow a pale blue to bring in the weakest signal. It costs $500.

Power Plus Data

Tripp lite switch ACThere’s never enough room or power outlets in a server room or closet, but Tripp-Lite has an amazing idea to make it happen. Its Managed Gigabit Ethernet Switch PDU Combo combines two rows of high-speed Ethernet ports along with a dozen AC outlets that have 3,680 joules of surge protection. The data can be managed, prioritized and monitored and the stream can carry POE power for downstream devices. The switch-power combo can be had in 16- or 24 switches and the best part is that together they fit into a 1U-sized space in your server rack.

Updating a Classic

Linksys WRT3200ACM HeroThe iconic blue and black WRT family of Linksys routers just got a lilttle bigger, more powerful and up to date. The WRT3200ACM is a tri-stream 802.11ac WiFi router that uses a a single 2.4GHz and two 5GHz channels to excel at delivering data to multiple devices. It combines wide 160MHz data channels with the latest Wave 2 MuMimo technology to bring up to 3.2Gbps to clients and can use open source software, expanding its usefulness. You can use it for regular old data duties, as a virtual private network or to remove advertisement tracking. It costs $250.

Freebee Friday: X Marks the NetSpot

NetspotThe hardest part of covering a school with WiFi often involves filling in dead spots after the access points have been installed. NetSpot can help with software that eases creating a site survey of a network’s strong and weak points. There are free apps for Macs and Windows systems as well as a $149 Pro version for Macs that adds the ability to use 15 different ways of looking at the data and can tap into hidden networks.

LAN in Hand

Netsctou g2Figuring out what’s wrong with a network can take hours of nosing around, but Netsscout’s AirCheck G2 can likely figure it out in seconds. The handheld network scanner can connect with a Wired Ethernet LAN or a 802.11ac WiFi connection and its 5-inch color touchscreen can present everything from checking Connectivity and mismatched wiring to looking for channel interference. It can not only help troubleshoot DHCP and Power over Ethernet problems but Cisco Discovery issues as well. All results can be saved to a cloud account for later comparison. It costs $2,193.53 with a case, AC adapter and cords.

 

WiFi Plays Outdoors

DAP-3320-siderightYour school is locked up with excellent WiFi coverage but the playing fields, bus pickup area and parking lot are dead zones, not allowing online access, IP cameras or phones. Enter D-Link’s DAP 3320, an 802.11n access point that can stand up to the worst weather that mother nature can dish out. It tops out at 300Mbps of throughput, which should be more than enough for a few surveillance cameras, an emergency IP phone and even some outdoor Web surfing.

A New Angle on Cables

CompositeDoes your server room look like a tangle of cables with neither rhyme nor reason? A new generation of networking cables with plugs that sit at a right angle and can be stacked for great neatness and visibility. They meet all the requirements for Category-6 status and are shielded against interference with a channel separator and load bar to maintain performance despite its right-angle bend. They cost only a little more than budget cables.

Quick Switch

Netgear-prosafe-xs708eIf your network isn’t living up to its high-speed potential, it might be your switches that are slowing the data down. If you have gigabit hardware, move up to 10-gigabit per second speeds with Netgear’s ProSAFE Plus Switch. The XS708E offers 8 ports that can reliably move 10 gigabits per second of data from here to there. It’s fully manageable, can protect against denial of service attacks and can allocate bandwidth to where it’s needed. The 8-port switch costs $850.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.