Today’s college students have never known a world without technology. I’m not just talking about computers, or even access to the internet. People who are 18 years old today were in kindergarten when the iPhone debuted in 2007, meaning that they’ve been able to access fast, user-friendly apps basically since they can remember. As a result, they expect their IT experiences in higher education to be just as simple and effective.
The connected campus can have a number of benefits for colleges and universities, ranging from improved security to enhanced collaboration — and, of course, it can create a competitive edge in student and faculty recruitment. But to enable effective end-user solutions, institutions must first invest in the networking and data center infrastructure necessary to power them.
Colleges and universities looking to provide students and faculty with a robust connected-campus experience should explore the following infrastructure solutions and practices.
Security tools and processes — such as next-generation firewalls — that leverage microsegmentation are essential for keeping data safe. (Microsegmentation is a method of creating virtual boundaries between workloads and data on a network that allows an organization to isolate them from each other, improving the security of each.) This is especially important when so many virtual machines are sitting on the same physical servers, and when so much information is flowing over the same networks. Even over wireless networks, where all data may be riding the same radio frequency signal on an access point, security-minded institutions are segmenting guests from authenticated users by encrypting each group into its own “tunnel.”
2. Hyperconverged Infrastructure
Hyperconverged infrastructure combines compute, storage and networking in commodity hardware, which drastically simplifies infrastructure management while also providing scalability benefits. This scalability has been compared to that of the public cloud, and indeed, HCI is often a key component of institutions’ hybrid cloud environments. In some ways, the nearly instantaneous scalability of HCI is preferable to the actually instantaneous scalability of public cloud environments. Because HCI must still be approved and installed (rather than spun up with a couple of mouse clicks), it provides a built-in check against the sort of sprawl that has introduced unnecessary waste and complexity into many organizations’ public cloud environments.
3. All-Flash Arrays
As the cost of flash storage has come down, many colleges and universities have been replacing spinning disks with all-flash arrays, resulting in dramatic performance improvements. The benefits of this really show up in periods of peak demand, such as student registration. For institutions that still rely on spinning disks, outdated infrastructure often creates severe bottlenecks that require students to register during assigned slots to keep the system from crashing — resulting in weeklong registration processes that shut many students out of desired classes. After colleges and universities upgrade to all-flash, they are generally able to allow all students to register simultaneously.
4. Backup and Recovery
In 2020, amid the current COVID-19 health crisis, system outages simply aren’t acceptable. Increasingly, large components of day-to-day instruction have moved online, and institutions throughout the country have shifted exclusively to online learning. To keep systems up and running, colleges and universities must not only invest in appropriate failover solutions and secondary environments, but also rigorously test their backup and recovery environments to make sure they can stand up to a crisis.