Guest Column | April 17, 2014

A Reseller's Guide: Unique Challenges Of Network Management In The University Marketplace

Reseller's Guide To Network Management

By Sarah Meyer, Director of Product Marketing, Ipswitch WhatsUpGold

Universities and colleges are besieged by a growing number of wireless devices and increased demands on the capacity of the network. Resellers need to serve as partners as these universities struggle to find the right balance for providing service and containing costs.

In the summer of 2013, the EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel found that leveraging the wireless and device explosion on campus was the top issue academic IT departments are facing. Additionally, the key priorities include the imperative to “contain and reduce costs and meet the student and faculty expectations of contemporary consumer technologies and communication standards.”

This pressure is exacerbated by the increase in the number of wireless devices students bring and the dramatic growth of bandwidth-hungry video streaming. Streaming accounted for half of the wireless traffic in 2013, and analysts predict that two-thirds of the traffic on the Internet will be from streaming by 2018. Streaming is even more pronounced at colleges and universities with e-learning, video security, and rampant student consumption of Netflix or YouTube videos. The BYOD (bring your own device) trend also exacerbates the problem with more connections at various points throughout the network.

Managing Network Growth On Campus

Clearly, investment in a robust network management model is critical. Resellers should partner with universities to assess the individual needs and make recommendations to manage the growing challenges. Some basic areas for investment include:

  • Access Point Proliferation: The average access point can support 15 to 20 devices without sacrificing performance or availability. This means a single class of students on mobile devices can directly impact quality of service. For a university with tens of thousands of students, managing simple availability alone can be monumental. Mapping and understanding bandwidth usage is critical to the long-term success of a campus network.
  • Network Monitoring And Management: Usage is not static in any network — there are ongoing peaks and valleys in bandwidth needs and connectivity links. Investment in the software to monitor these systems and the people to support the implementation and maintenance is as critical as the access points themselves.

Without tools to quickly and correctly analyze the root causes of performance problems, most universities implement a much more costly route for capacity management. They simply buy more and more access points without ever looking at efficient models for the long-term quality of service they desire. In some cases, upgrading switches, adding access points or even redesigning infrastructure can address the symptoms of performance issues without solving the underlying problem.

As a reseller, you want to offer insight to your customers that leads to long-term solutions, happy university administrators and decreased student and facility complaints. Universities, and by extension their resellers, should be actively monitoring:

  • Density of students accessing wireless connections
  • Signal strength of access points and health of hardware supporting the network
  • Abuse of rogue devices attached to the network that may expose sensitive data
  • Student activity that violates university policies, drains resources or downloads malware to the network
  • Peak times for network connectivity (event focused times like finals or March Madness or even the average time of day for highest levels of streaming)

Active engagement in the ongoing monitoring of the network is essential for the modern university campus. Done right, the process gives users of the network the level of connectivity and flexibility that they have come to expect on a university campus.

The importance of wireless connectivity should be reflected in IT plans, policies and budgets – and the best university resellers offer customers the necessary guidance on the tools to optimize the network for today and tomorrow's campus needs.
At Ipswitch, Sarah Meyer leads product marketing for network and IT operations management products, including WhatsUpGold. With 25+ years' experience in the technology industry, Meyer has previously held senior product marketing, product management and other roles at a series of software companies including Attivio, CA, Nexaweb, Beachfire, Curl Corp, and Lotus. She founded Wypark Consulting, where she has advised numerous companies on market strategy, positioning, and go-to-market planning. She began her career in academia as the Director of User Services at Smith College.