1) Where does network complexity begin in a higher education setting?
Network complexity goes with the advent of mobile devices. You see that campuses, in general, tend to be more wired compared to ten years ago. You see an explosion of devices, whether they are owned by the school or by the students, teachers, etc. You have a mix of services that need to be handled differently. If all those complexities [translate] from a traditional network to a wireless network on campus, it brings its own set of challenges in terms of strengths of signals in various areas across campus.
There are a lot of things to think about when you’re in charge of a higher education network, such as things from an end user’s point of view, getting on the network, and using your device when you’re in charge of IT in those environments. You’re supposed to deliver those services. You have to think about things like performance monitoring, access control, overall deployments, etc.
2) How can higher education IT departments evaluate and take care of network weaknesses?
They can use wireless-oriented tools to evaluate all of the signals from the various access points distributed over their environment. They can automate things when there are problems; you can be as active as you want, but there will always be weak spots in the network. Having a tool that can look after the session that people had, and the type of user experience they had over that network is also very important. Someone at one point or another will complain that, “I didn’t have my signal in that area,” or, “I had a signal, but I was not able to connect to the network in that area.” [IT should] be able to use an IPS management tool, or a tool to track devices to the access points people are connected to, how long people are staying on those access points and what types of activity they’ve done. That’s important to have.
3) What kind of relationships should colleges have with their IT departments while handling network complexities?
I think there needs to be, just like in business in general, synchronization between IT and the rest of the stakeholder. There needs to be a much more collaborative approach between the teacher and the people who are using the services of IT. IT doesn’t work in isolation for the rest of the business they are serving, whether they’re in a school or another industry. They need to partner; at the end of the day, the teacher needs to feel they have service providers behind them, and not just complaining when they get a helpdesk ticket. There needs to be a more collaborative approach to solving problems. They should also be proactive about finding the solutions that are available to provide those services to teachers, and make sure the school chooses them and whoever else needs to have access to networks within the college or university.