APM for schools: overkill or overdue?

Selected APM can make the school IT admin’s life easier, while increasing overall IT budget buy-in from the rest of the body.
Performance management
High end APM can be rolled out for school systems

Digital learning was once a pipe dream, a nice-to-have, for forward-thinking educators in Australia and around the world. Within just a few months, however, it’s woven itself temporarily ­– in some cases permanently –  into the fabric of the country’s education system. Most schools will tell you the transition wasn’t without its speedbumps: during the pandemic, spikes of online learners brought more than one edu-portal to its knees. When even well-funded public agencies struggle to adapt and expand their tech stacks, how can the average Australian school hope to do so?

Enter Application Performance Management, or APM. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t APM the unicorn magic of only well-funded enterprises? Well, yes and no. Companies more often tap into the full range of enterprise APM capabilities like custom code instrumentation, app server modification, or even monitoring appliances. However, schools can see significant budget-friendly benefits from “the best bits” of APM: availability monitoring, tracing, and end-user experience management.

That’s because schools aren’t required to offer best-in-class, competition-beating services defined in milliseconds. Instead, they need to reliably deliver crash-free, scalable apps and portals to enable great learning experiences for every student. In this regard, selected APM can make the school IT admin’s life easier, while increasing overall IT budget buy-in from the rest of the body.

Rather Fittingly, it begins with education
“Not another piece of tech!” That’s a generally reasonable sort of pushback IT can expect from the education body when discussing APM. After years of being sold digital solutions that didn’t live up to their promise and increased complexity, who can blame them? The first challenge for IT teams, then, is to educate stakeholders and educators about the necessity of APM.

Rather than explain its technical underpinnings, frame it as a staff of broadly dispersed experts monitoring around the clock, to alert, identify, and enable rapid response against issues cropping up in the app stack or network. It’s also helpful to remind the body that APM’s mission is to minimize issues that would disrupt pedagogy. It also works both in periods of uncertainty and to ease the inevitable growing pains of future transformative efforts for schools.

For educators, this would mean not having to wrangle slow-loading applications and crashing software while simultaneously managing a room full of students. For the school administrator or management, it would mean fewer complaints from parents about lack of access to homework apps at home, or even ease public scrutiny that’s followed some transformational initiatives. Parents are also new to remote learning. Stable e-learning platforms can go a long way to reassuring them their children are receiving solid education, regardless of the circumstances.

When problems occur –  as they inevitably do –  APM can also allow IT to rapidly troubleshoot and resolve issues in the application stack or network, minimizing lesson disruption. Modern cloud-based application monitoring tools can also proactively spot emerging performance bottlenecks before they become an annoyance to educators or frustrate students. It can also be a boon to districts seeking to build trust in school administration.

Find what works for your school – and you
Once trust and support have been secured from the educational body, IT can begin evaluating if and which elements of APM will benefit their operations. In particular, they should focus analysis on their unique needs. K–8 schools, for instance, typically use selected third-party applications for specific curricula like science, grammar, and reading. This contrasts with the bandwidth demands of high schools, which are generally larger, depend on a greater set of pre-packaged applications, include on-prem data and workloads, and integrate multiple software as a service (SaaS) apps through single sign-in portals.

This scales even further once you enter universities or other institutions of higher learning, which use even more bandwidth-heavy services, more bundled third-party applications, and larger WANs. Most are also effectively ISPs, providing internet for dorms and public spaces. IT teams should discuss APM benefits with other schools who’ve adopted it or consult solution providers about what may work well for them. Specifically, look for detailed examples of observed ROI and how it fits in a school budget.

Today, school IT pros already have an advantage by mastering the fundamentals required to make an APM solution work, like automated application and network discovery in their network management systems. But to reap the full benefits of APM, they should aim to understand APM concepts beyond traditional infrastructure monitoring and security best practices. Fortunately, modern network management solutions support hybrid cloud and provide deep systems monitoring. That can be a considerable help, acting as a team Rosetta stone to make observability or visibility conversations more productive.

With selected APM solutions and methodologies to support them, educators increasingly unlock the full promise digital learning brings for students today. They’re also building an enriching infrastructure for future generations of Australians. True, APM can embolden school administrators to safely push the envelope of transformation initiatives. But most importantly, it helps school IT pros better manage their existing hair balls of third-party application stacks and meshed software portfolios.

School IT pros have long demonstrated a knack for adapting to changes and meeting the needs of education. Today they’re going far beyond. School IT is delivering illumination in the modern classroom, wherever and whatever it may happen to be.