Mar 01 2017

Think Strategically and Fund Creatively to Stretch IT Dollars

When it comes to attracting students and researchers, fast Wi-Fi is a must.

College students raised on technology see it as an essential part of their educational experience. About 71 percent of respondents to a recent EDUCAUSE survey believe that technology increases learning engagement, and 78 percent see technology as crucial to successful course completion.

Drury University CIO and Executive Vice President David Hinson predicted that institutions that don’t keep up technologically will find themselves unappealing to prospective students, Education DIVE reports.

Unfortunately, the 2016 Campus Computing Survey found that college IT department budgets are still struggling nine years after the start of the 2008 recession, with almost one-third decreasing their IT budgets in 2016–2017.

There is a silver lining: Investing limited IT dollars strategically and funding new infrastructure projects creatively can yield big returns — even in an era of shrinking budgets.

Good Wi-Fi Is a College Requirement

With students spending so much of their educational and personal time online, colleges must provide campuswide Wi-Fi that measures up to the performance standards that students have been accustomed to at home.

Institutions can invest big bucks to upgrade hardware, but first, they should make sure they’re using existing resources effectively. One simple method is to reconfigure wireless controllers to delegate bandwidth intelligently, so that one student downloading multiple videos doesn’t shut out everyone else. This inexpensive strategy was a big success at Dallas Baptist University, which capped per-student bandwidth to 10 megabits — still plenty for video streaming and games.

“We saw an immediate increase in reliability and a lot fewer calls about performance issues,” says William Gryder, the university’s network operations director.

Dallas Baptist University also takes advantage of Aruba ClearPass network access manager to throttle speeds to 2 megabits per second for the highest users after they download 5 gigabits of data in a single day. After users hit 10Gb of downloads, the speed drops again, to 256 kilobits per second.

The quality of service is also important for prioritizing bandwidth strategically in interactive learning environments. Many institutions have upgraded their network backbones from 1 gigabit per second to 10Gbps — with some eyeing 100Gbps — to support increased demand.

Research Requires Increased Bandwidth

If there is one overarching trend in university research today, it’s collaboration — among departments, other universities and even with industry. Collaboration is increasingly digital, and the connectivity demands for exchanging large data sets can be considerable. Fortunately, creative funding strategies can help to upgrade connectivity significantly.

Thanks to a $496,948 National Science Foundation grant, the University of Arkansas was able to upgrade its research internet connection from 10Gbps to 100Gbps. In addition to facilitating easier collaboration, the improvement also made the university more competitive in obtaining research funding and support from the NSF and other institutions.

“The network will not only support advancements in research opportunities in Arkansas, but it will also create and foster an environment of collaboration with colleagues and other researchers, both nationally and globally,” says Steven Fulkerson, executive director of the Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network.

Institutions seeking the best students and top-notch research can’t afford to fall behind technologically. A little strategy and creativity can help IT teams stay ahead of the pack when budgets are tight.


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