Mobile, security tools among education tech favorites

IT pros in education rave about MDM, security, network monitoring wares

In the school district of La Crosse, Vicki Lyons depends on mobile device management software from Jamf to manage the Wisconsin district’s fleet of iPads and MacBook Air devices. The Apple device management platform plays a key role in the district’s efforts to provide equitable access to technology to all of its students.

“We use Jamf Pro as our device management solution for our 1:1 iPad program district-wide. As a result, we are driving student success with iPads and meeting their individual needs via personalized learning — something we weren’t able to previously do,” says Lyons, technology service director for the School District of La Crosse.

“Giving each student an iPad has really made a difference in their lives, especially for those who didn’t previously have technology at home.”

Self-service features enable students to get their devices up and running in less than 20 minutes, Lyons says. “Once iPads are deployed, we’re able to collect dynamic inventory, reduce risks and protect resources, and ensure peace of mind with remote lock and wipe, automated patches, and reporting on backup status,” she says.

Being able to easily inventory, deploy and secure Apple devices also eases the management burden on IT: “Our district has grown the program from 3,000 to more than 8,000 iPad and MacBook Air devices — all without having to increase our technical staff,” Lyons says.

“Jamf Pro has made management of our Apple devices simple and secure. Most importantly, it’s helped us close the digital divide, and empower our students by providing them with digital equity in and outside of the classroom,” she says.

Lyons shared her experience with Jamf as part of Network World’s annual Fave Raves project, which asks IT pros to talk about their favorite enterprise tech products. (Related: 31 tech pros share favorite IT products).

This year, a number of IT pros from the education industry weighed in on their must-haves. At Concordia University, Jonathan Mierow depends on Code42 CrashPlan to back up distributed end-user data.

“We needed a backup/DR solution that would be easy to deliver, maintain and administer. It's been the easiest deployment we've done for our university,” says Mierow, senior network administrator at the St. Paul, Minn., university.

CrashPlan simplifies the deployment of freshly imaged machines to Concordia faculty and staff if they have issues with broken hardware or malware, he says. “With Code42, the faculty and staff know they can restore their own data as they need it. This alone has reduced calls to our help desk, as well as instilled confidence in our end users that the IT department is providing the right tools to protect their data.”

“It can be difficult in higher education to get faculty and staff to buy into changes that IT would like to make, but after a brief explanation and some simple training, our users were off and running,” Mierow says.

A few IT pros also talked about the tools they use to bolster security at higher-education institutions. Flush with personal data and valuable research, universities can be prime targets for hackers.

Dutchess Community College, which is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, relies on DatAdvantage from Varonis. The data security platform is designed to show organizations where sensitive data exists, who is accessing it, and how to keep it safe.

“DatAdvantage is the only product in this space that gives you a single window into your unstructured data. In that one interface I can see who has access to my data, where the data lives, what type of data it is, and how long it has been since it was touched,” says Howard Ignal, director of information security and system architect at SUNY Dutchess in Poughkeepsie, NY. “DatAdvantage also [addresses] key regulatory requirements through data classification, which digs into your files looking for personally identifiable information/sensitive business material. The interface is very easy to use for both technical and non-technical staff.”

“Varonis in the first month identified four locations where sensitive data was being stored,” Ignal says. “These locations would never have been located without Varonis running. During the first six months of using Varonis we identified multiple ransomware attacks and stopped them with ZERO data loss.”

Looking ahead, SUNY Dutchess plans to expand its DatAdvantage deployment to include its Office 365 implementation and protect its offsite storage. “Doing this will give us full view of our data on premises and in the cloud,” Ignal says. “This is very important to our organization.”

At Texas A&M University System, Daniel Basile has deployed Vectra’s cybersecurity platform to help defend the statewide higher-ed system that spans 11 universities and seven state agencies.

“There are very few tools that allow you to distil cybersecurity event information to a level where a tier-1 analyst can make a meaningful decision with the information presented to him within five minutes,” says Basile, who is executive director of the security operations center at Texas A&M University System. “If the tool can do this without agents, without signatures, and without logs, many people would claim disbelief. With Vectra, we are able to obtain this.”

The effectiveness of Vectra has allowed A&M System to monitor its system network and run a security operations center with an extremely small staff. “We are able to leverage student workers with an affinity for cybersecurity to act as our tier-1 analysts. This turns our titled tier-1 individuals effectively into tier-2 analysts,” Basile says.

Vectra has also reduced the risk of costly data breaches. “On average, in the past, if you had a breach you called forensics and you found out about it usually a month after it actually occurred,” Basile says. “With Vectra, we found seven incidents, but we found them quickly enough I didn’t need to call an outside forensics team.” Early detection has saved A&M System millions of dollars, he says.

Philip Grabowski, who is an IT, network, and security forensic instructor at Pittsburgh Technical College, shared his experience with Paessler’s PRTG network monitoring software.

“Within minutes you can begin monitoring your network and get a visual on the topology. Immediately you can start researching problems on your network and fix them,” Grabowski says.

“I use PRTG in a botnet lab to show students an attack from a Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), which creates a denial of service on the domain controller. We are also monitoring traffic in the botnet lab to detect if client machines are downloading torrents,” Grabowski says. “Students get hands-on experience using the product in the classroom without fear of harming a production environment. This provides confidence in the product in the field.”

On the customer service front, Grand Canyon University uses Calabrio ONE to streamline contact center operations.

Calabrio ONE, a workforce optimization suite, “makes my job easy,” says Sara de la Fuente, quality assurance specialist at Grand Canyon University. “I spend my entire day working out of Calabrio. It is easy to navigate, great for culling data/analytics, the customer support has been amazing, and the system is continuously rolling out new features.”

Colleague Josie Trimnal, who is an operations quality analyst, adds that Calabrio ONE “has helped Grand Canyon University to streamline our quality management process and has assisted us in providing our agents with necessary, instant feedback to improve our overall customer experience.”

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