Hardware-based web filtering appliances for schools have some advantages, but many K12 schools are saying goodbye to the appliances and are choosing a much more convenient and practical solution.

In the United States, K12 schools are required to implement a web filtering solution to control access to the Internet in order to receive E-rate funding. Even schools that do not participate in the E-rate program need to filter the Internet. Parents are pressuring schools into ensuring the Internet can be accessed safely in schools and want to receive assurances that their children can use the Internet without inadvertently – or deliberately – viewing inappropriate material such as pornography.

Hardware-Based Web Filtering Appliances for Schools

A hardware-based web filtering appliance for schools may appear to tick all the boxes. Hardware devices sit in front of an Internet gateway and filter Internet traffic. They prevent users from accessing websites that are deemed to be dangerous or inappropriate.

While hardware-based web filtering appliances for schools can seem like an easy option, many schools are finding that is far from the case. Hardware-based web filtering appliances for schools are fine if there are just a handful of computers accessing the Internet in each classroom, but hardware solutions lack scalability. When the number of devices is increased, more appliances must be purchased.

Hardware-based web filtering appliances place limitations on web traffic. When the number of devices simultaneously requiring access to the Interest increases, a bottleneck can occur. It doesn’t matter how much the Internet pipe to a school is increased with an ISP, if a 1GB web filtering appliance is used for example, that will be the limiting factor not a 5GB connection. There is likely to be latency, which can be considerable.

One solution is to use multiple hardware devices. This will increase the capacity, although more devices mean an increased maintenance burden on IT departments. Multiple devices mean schools have to find the space to house the appliances. Cooling systems may need to be augmented and more devices means higher energy bills. Hardware-based web filtering appliances for schools can prove to be very costly.

Hardware-based web filtering appliances are now being stretched further still as many schools start increasing the number of devices used by students. While one or two desktop computers used to be sufficient, many schools are now considering one-to-one computing, where each student is issued with a school laptop. However, such an increase in devices places considerable demands on hardware-based web filters and the result is considerable latency.

Then there is the problem of how to protect students when laptop computers are taken home. As we have already seen, some parents have made their schools take back the devices until adequate controls are placed on the devices to restrict Internet content. If software is installed on each laptop – in the form of a local client – the Internet can still be filtered using school hardware-based web filters. The client forwards traffic to the school’s datacenter, and traffic then passes through a web filtering appliance.

This sorts out the problem of Internet filtering, but it also puts more pressure on the datacenter. This may even require additional hardware devices to be purchased. Also, outside of normal school hours, if there are any issues with the datacenter, students will be prevented from accessing the Internet.

The latency and cost issues have spurred many K12 schools to look for an alternative to hardware-based web filtering appliances for schools. The answer has been found in the cloud.

Benefits of Cloud-Based Web Filtering Solutions for Schools

Cloud-based web filtering solutions offer a number of advantages over hardware-based web filtering appliances and solve many problems, especially as schools increase either the number of devices supplied to students or the number of devices that are allowed to connect to the network.

Cloud-based solutions require no hardware purchases and no space in the data center. This offers an initial cost saving as devices do not need to be purchased. No network deployments of client applications also means quick and easy implementation and since there is no hardware to maintain, the burden on IT departments is eased.

Any web filtering solution involves a certain degree of latency, although with cloud-based solutions this is kept to an absolute minimal level. Internet speed is not noticeably reduced and there is no latency within the datacenter itself. When students take hardware off the premises they can still be protected without data needing to be routed back to the schools’ datacenter.

Then there is the speed of reaction to web content that should be blocked. When changes need to be made to filtering rules they can be applied quickly and easily from any location without the need for IT staff to access each hardware appliance. A cloud-based control panel can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection and changes can be rapidly made.

Cloud-based solutions are also highly scalable. There is no limit on bandwidth or the number of users. Once a solution is deployed, it doesn’t matter how big the network gets. There is no need to upgrade hardware or purchase any more devices.

With these and many other benefits it is no surprise that so many schools are now turning to the cloud for their Internet filtering needs. The cloud is the perfect choice for K12 schools looking to keep their students – and devices – safe.