4 higher ed trends and the intelligent infrastructure needed to address them.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gerri Hinkel

After spending the past year adapting to being fully recognized as contributors to student outcomes, in 2018 higher ed IT departments will see an increased emphasis on approaching institutional technology needs from a student and business success perspective.

Among other projects, your broader institutional communities will ask you to address the following four tech trends by providing the right infrastructure strategies to match.

1) Increased Focus on Student Success.

Although wired and wireless networks will remain critical to every campus constituency, the decision-making focus will center on student success. For IT, this means thinking differently and deploying accordingly. The need for high bandwidth with always-on connectivity, in a dorm room for example, means evaluating your high-performing environments and then replicating the relevant settings for similar environments. Another example is analyzing student migration patterns across campus, which provides insights for determining which changes – tech or otherwise – to deploy, reducing not only connectivity complaints, but negative impacts on teaching and learning.

2) Experience Expectations Amp Up.

With expectations for high-performance, high-density connectivity now akin to reliable HVAC, the new yardstick for measuring IT effectiveness is disruption infrequency. In other words, the window for downtime – whether applying patches or rolling out new Wi-Fi – is virtually closed, even during academic breaks, as someone will always be relying on your network for learning, research or off-hours pursuits.

3) Smart Security Gets Smarter.

Because any of the tens of thousands of devices connected to your network can serve as a cyber-threat vector, only multiple layers of sophisticated defenses can keep your institution from becoming this year’s higher ed security breach headline. Despite your past achievements with detecting and deterring nefarious activities, the sophistication and speed of today’s attacks, combined with the number of devices connecting to your network, means doubling-down on adopting pervasive, smart systems that turn your entire network into a threat mitigation solution.

4) Starring Roles Go to Simplicity, Automation and Intelligence.

Given the new and escalating demands, higher ed IT staffs are expressing keen interest in adopting solutions that assist with becoming even more proactive. From detecting and remediating issues before they affect users to self-healing systems, contributing to student success requires automation, intelligence and streamlining to ensure IT can deliver the required capabilities without breaking budgets.

Advanced Strategies and Solutions Get You to Your Goals

Start with Smart Infrastructure. Whether it’s addressing experience expectations, exposing student foot traffic patterns or securely managing large research data sets, adopting more intelligent wired and wireless networking infrastructure can help you become more proactive than ever before, generating IT efficiencies and enhancing user experiences.

To begin, replace outdated switching environments with modern, API-enabled, SDN-driven platforms that support the new IEEE 802.3bz standard for multi-gigabit Ethernet, reduce networking complexity and supply advanced self-healing innovations.

Born in the era of mobile, cloud and IoT, modern solutions unify wired and wireless for enhanced network functionality and policy enforcement while offering capabilities like dynamic segmentation. This capability enables you to appropriately separate your institution’s various different types and sources of voice, video and data traffic –based on the user or device, rather than on the switch port – to ensure secure and smooth experiences for all.

Sophisticated solutions also offer advanced, real-time analytics engines for identifying problems instantaneously, performing analysis to gain insights quickly and predicting – or avoiding – issues that often lead to scale, security and performance bottlenecks.

Another critical capability is automated anomaly remediation, which enables your infrastructure to detect an event, begin collecting traffic data and then correlate that data with various sources. As a result, you acquire immediate and actionable information rather than conducting tedious post-event research. Such capabilities also assist with streamlining security by showing when a suspicious traffic spike is actually related to normal utilization rather than a threat.

Even administrating the switches themselves is more efficient as the latest SDN offerings banish archaic manual command line coding in favor of intuitive, customizable and centralized interfaces. This includes easily programming more sophisticated functions, like the specific sequence of activities required to trigger the data collection and correlation process.

As a whole, these capabilities significantly improve data traffic visibility and manageability, while reducing IT burdens, for faster detection, diagnosis, resolution and administration that translates to fewer complaints and rock-solid connectivity experiences.

Layer on the security. Let’s face it, no matter how well you secure your wireless and wired networks, security experts agree that today’s advanced threats will eventually get inside. In fact, the most recent studies indicate that over two-thirds of breaches actually involve internal, not external, actors.

That’s why it makes sense to infuse real-time intelligence supplied by AI-based machine learning into your security layers for swiftly detecting subtle changes that accompany modern cyber-attacks, whether originating from inside or out. For example, if a connected door access card reader tries to masquerade as your campus mobile app, an AI-infused access control solution can detect this behavior faster than humanly possible, give it a risk score and immediately deny network access while notifying the appropriate IT and facilities administrators.

The most advanced solutions also provide clear, understandable feedback to anyone attempting to use the card reader – such as sending a text message to a card reader’s potential user to redirect them to an operational door.

Give your Wi-Fi super powers. On the wireless side, a variety of automation innovations, ranging from real-time network updating capabilities to dynamic network tuning, help dispel traditional management hurdles to create even greater IT efficiencies and further improve experiences.

Look for a hierarchical operating system architecture that enables configuring your entire network from a centralized dashboard, regardless of how many on and off campus facilities your institution maintains. In addition to streamlining Wi-Fi deployment, this also permits applying changes quickly by automatically flowing new configurations from the top of the hierarchy throughout all locations.

You should also expect dynamic controller load balancing. Although utilization patterns in most enterprises remain static, in higher ed the patters shift over time – traditionally requiring time-consuming manual rebalancing on a regular basis. Not anymore. With automated load balancing your Wi-Fi solution can dynamically adjust to load shits, freeing you and your staff to concentrate on other tasks.

Another feature to leverage is multi-tenancy. This enables creating separate sub-networks, within the same larger network, that utilize the same access points (APs) simultaneously. For example, to reduce management complexities inherent in today’s IoT explosion, you can use multi-tenancy to place facilities management IoT devices in a separate environment from research IoT. Traffic continues to run over the same APs, but remains completely segregated, providing yet another way to ensure users receive the best, and safest, connectivity experiences.

Naturally, the best Wi-Fi solutions also incorporate AI and machine learning innovations to streamline management, speed troubleshooting and enhance experiences. Just one capability is proactively optimizing network and user experiences. Others include continuously identifying and preventing problems; providing the ability to benchmark and learning other university networks for continuous improvement; automating anomaly detection; and providing event impact analysis.

No matter which capabilities top your list, modern offerings can help you get ahead – and stay ahead – of issues to drive down outages and achieve the true promise of “always-on” connectivity. In short, there’s no better time to start improving your support of student success in 2018 than right now.

Gerri Hinkel is a senior marketing manager for primary and higher education at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, where she serves as a liaison to educational institutions. Previously, she held education-related roles with Polycom and spent over a decade as a distance learning specialist for educational departments within the State of Texas. Hinkel holds a BS in mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.Ed. from the University of Texas at Brownsville.