Mar 20 2014

Colleges Optimize Networks to Support Mobile Students, Faculty and Staff

Learn how two universities managed to handle the massive influx of mobile devices on campus.

Like most college campuses that have been managing the influx of mobile devices for more than a decade, the University of North Georgia has had mobility-related bandwidth challenges solved for some time.

Alfred Barker, chief information security officer and director of network services at the university, separated wireless traffic — including smartphones and tablets — from the production network and placed BlueCoat PacketShaper appliances on the perimeter of the wireless networks. “We’re able to prioritize different traffic classes, giving top priority to our internal business applications,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for several years, and it’s worked out well.”

The strategy has paid off for the university, especially over the past six months when the IT staff rolled out Microsoft Lync. The university has four locations spread across several miles, so the ability to run video conferencing sessions saves time and money.


The percentage of IT managers who say WAN optimization is a priority

SOURCE: “The Evolving State of the Network” (Enterprise Strategy Group, December 2013)

“PacketShaper lets us classify and prioritize traffic,” Barker says. “During peak times, this lets administrators and staff run meetings via video so they don’t have to travel from campus to campus.” These video conferences are accessible on desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, he adds.

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says more IT organizations must factor in mobility as they move forward with their bandwidth management strategies.

“As workplaces become more mobile, IT managers will be asking many of the same questions as before, such as ‘How can we optimize the network and reduce operational costs?’” Laliberte says. “Only during this era, we will also have to look at applications people are running on their smartphones and tablets.”

Expanding Infrastructure to Support Mobile Demand

About two years ago, the University of Portland in Oregon, responded to increased bandwidth consumption from mobile devices, multimedia and video streaming traffic by investing in a BlueCoat PacketShaper appliance to prioritize business-critical services.

Michelle Sunderland, director of technical services for the information services division, says the university also implemented BlueCoat CacheFlow to optimize bandwidth for video streaming and popular web content. A combination of social media, video streaming and gaming consume roughly 60 percent of the university’s bandwidth.

Sunderland sees an increased burden on the university’s Wi-Fi networks as more students bring mobile devices to campus, adding that in the past year, the campus transitioned from 802.11g to 802.11n. “As soon as we made the transition, we saw the increased bandwidth get eaten up,” she says. “We worked hard to configure our PacketShaper to address the need to keep the quality of service for business-critical and academic-critical services intact.”

CacheFlow delivers about 40 percent bandwidth optimization, and with more fine-tuning, the university expects to achieve up to 55 percent.

Three Tips for the Mobile WAN

Organizations seeking to assess the impact of mobility on WAN bandwidth should heed these three recommendations from Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group:

  • Identify what runs over the WAN. Start by understanding how people are using applications across the WAN. Put the appropriate monitoring tools in place so that, as the number of employee-owned devices in the organization rises, the IT staff can better understand how that affects the network and production apps.

  • Leverage hybrid networks. As devices proliferate, organizations that use only dedicated or leased lines may reduce costs by using Internet connections only as backups. Most WAN optimization products can manage multiple links and provide QoS and failover protection.

  • Prioritize critical apps. Enact policies to restrict the use of nonproduction applications to keep all web and video apps that are run on smartphones and tablets from flooding the network.

<p>dolgachov / ThinkStock</p>

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