Modernizing IT Networks for Higher Education

In today’s data-driven world, higher educational institution networks and their management must be modernized to address the needs of everyone across campus. Enterprises face similar challenges and also need to modernize their networks.

Modernizing IT Networks for Higher Education
(Credit: Edwin Remsberg / Alamy Stock Photo)

Information technology teams at institutions of higher learning face unique network challenges based on lean budgets and lengthy evaluation and approval processes to upgrade any hardware or software components. Yet IT managers are still responsible for securing and managing sensitive financial and personal information for students, instructors, and administrators. At a more practical business level, universities and community colleges must provide a solid networking infrastructure to compete, or they could lose out on potential students and tuition to rival schools.

Despite these challenges, there can be no leeway for poorly managed networks that reduce access to educational service delivery for students and faculty. After all, teaching and learning now depend on the availability and quality of network connections in current campus digital environments, from online lectures to laboratory research and much more.

The ABCs of Network Monitoring and Management

Before undertaking network upgrades, schools first need to get a handle on their existing infrastructure needs. This process involves identifying all the network access points for students and faculty, providing the capacity to meet data storage requirements; and implementing plans for disaster recovery and backup.

Recognizing the detailed status of network conditions and components in real-time is vital for maintaining network availability and user uptime. For students and staff who require major wireless capacity, it’s important that all their devices coming on and off the network can each be allocated adequate network resources to ensure dependable access.

Network monitoring and management systems are useful tools to analyze networks and IT operations. Such tools can find and remediate problems or hotspots before they escalate into network failures. These tools can also map out network access points to maintain an updated inventory of all devices running on the network.

Another basic practice involves the creation and maintenance of a centralized configuration backup repository to optimize network operations across the university system. Network administrators can then work to simplify and improve their network operations by increasing their levels of insight through unified monitoring and automation.

Network Security and Data Privacy 101

Preserving continuous network uptime for students, faculty, and administrators is critical, but if their data remains unprotected, then everyone at the institution faces personal risk for identity theft. Even worse, successful cyberattacks may result in system-wide phishing scams or ransomware attacks that can financially devastate a school.

Hackers increasingly target educational institutions because their networks are often relatively easy to access compared to other large enterprises. With outdated infrastructure and innumerable points of ingress, many school networks are susceptible to breaches. Free Wi-Fi in school buildings and a generation of students raised on smartphones can provide ripe opportunities for hackers to gain access to school networks. And students downloading free apps on their phones or moving from one school computer to another can quickly spread a computer virus.

One key element of security involves segmenting the network to protect against attackers who manage to penetrate the system. Segmented barriers prevent bad actors from moving laterally through an organization in search of new vulnerabilities to exploit. Other security techniques involve filtering for suspicious internet traffic or IPs and implementing policies to regulate unsecured mobile devices and the terms of use for BYOD users. This step includes controlling access for all offsite users and creating policies that prevent the reuse of passwords by students and staff.

Another important aspect of security involves safeguarding user data privacy. The Department of Education enforces the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects data privacy by affording students the right to view their own educational records. This rule includes the right for students to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from their records.

The Math of Measuring Network Effectiveness

There can be no way to make steady progress without measuring the effectiveness of how well a network is functioning. Here are several key performance indicators worth tracking:

Uptime. Availability and connectivity are essential. While 100% uptime can never be guaranteed, it can be approximated by proactively selecting dependable vendors, platforms, and tools that IT can monitor, measure, and quickly remediate should an outage occur.

Round Trip Time. RTT is an important metric for gauging network performance, latency, and packet loss. It helps to identify network performance issues across multiple vectors, including traffic bottlenecks, hardware issues, misconfigurations, and routing issues.

Device health. This measurement involves tracking key indicators about the state of physical and virtual devices living on the network. Issues such as availability, CPUs, temperature, and memory and disk usage can function as early warning signs of an overburdened network.

Educational institutions clearly present specialized challenges for network administrators to deliver collaborative digital experiences for all. In this data-driven world, the network must address the needs of everyone across campus by providing continual access to online resources, tools, and information. Only in this way can institutions of higher education fulfill their academic missions to provide effective teaching, learning, research, and community service.

Nolan Greene is a Product Marketing Manager at Auvik.

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About the Author(s)

Nolan Greene, Product Marketing Manager, Auvik

Nolan Greene is a Product Marketing Manager at Auvik and has over a decade of experience in the IT and networking industries. He began his career as a networking industry analyst and has since worked with various global software companies.

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