Feb 07 2012

Amp Up Your Wireless Network

IT managers need to embrace the growing mobility trend.

Many students arrive on campus today with an abundance of mobile devices. College network managers, who once thought providing bandwidth to support one or two devices per student, per classroom would be adequate, now realize that they need substantially more throughput on their wireless networks.

In the past, all an IT department had to do was deliver coverage for wireless notebooks. But now that students bring multiple devices to college, the IT department must address density issues that did not exist just a few years ago. Depending on the college’s infrastructure, IT staff may have to add wireless access points throughout campus or update their back-end switching infrastructure.

However you respond to bandwidth demands, IT staffs realize it’s time to embrace the consumerization of IT. Students and staff will continue to bring an increasing variety of mobile devices to campus, and it’s therefore incumbent on IT teams to prepare for the future.

No one can deny the mobility trend. Eighty-seven percent of students and 78 percent of faculty surveyed for the 2011 CDW•G 21st Century Campus Report say a wireless network is high on their list of essential technologies. Students, faculty and staff expect anytime, anywhere access using any device.

Setting a Strategy

For the most part, IT managers attempt to stay ahead of the mobility curve. Many colleges have had wireless networks for a decade or more, so there is institutional wireless knowledge to draw upon when developing new mobile strategies. Also, the vast majority of colleges have also launched server virtualization projects, which enables the IT staff to provision and manage applications for their mobile users more efficiently. Server virtualization also paves the way for client virtualization, which extends the wireless network and delivers the ubiquitous access the college community expects.

Additionally, colleges are introducing various slate tablet de­vices to campus. Not only are these products easy for students and instructors to carry around campus, but the latest tablets offer feature-rich media experiences, and developers are rolling out real-time collaboration and online meeting apps.

85 percent IT staffers who say their institutions offer wireless networks

Source: 2011 CDW•G 21st Century Campus Report (cdwg.com/21stcenturycampus)

Instructors can now organize students into small workgroups, where they can meet, discuss and collaborate in and out of class. Some instructors also plug microphones in to their tablet computers and record their lectures, posting them online as study guides or for students who couldn’t make it to class.

Once a college builds up its infrastructure and experiments with some of the new mobile devices, it’s also important to measure progress. Wireless manufacturers now offer sophisticated web-based management tools to document usage and bandwidth levels.

Keep in mind, though, that managing networks for mobile users is an evolving art. While there is talk about the decline of notebook and desktop systems, that’s highly unlikely in the near future. A more realistic scenario has campus IT departments managing a broad cross-section of devices for years to come.

In the meantime, the real goal for most colleges will be delivering anytime, anywhere access on any device. That’s challenging enough as IT staffs adapt to high-availability computing environments and colleges lean more heavily on their technology infrastructures to recruit, retain and graduate students.