Colleges Adapt IT Infrastructure to Expand Internet of Things

Networking, security and storage needs will grow and change as connected devices proliferate on campus.

It wasn’t so long ago that we talked about the Internet of Things as a phenomenon still on the horizon, a trend that we would keep an eye on as it slowly made its way onto higher education campuses. No longer.

Today, IoT is already embedded in our personal and professional environments. We ask Google Home for the weather forecast before we head outdoors; we rely on fitness trackers to monitor our activity levels; and we tap our Apple Watches to send emails and pay for groceries. 

On campus, faculty and students are also rapidly integrating connected devices into their work, from interactive whiteboards to wireless printers. Facilities managers are leveraging IoT to make buildings more energy-efficient and to detect and repair issues before users realize there’s a problem. At Duke University, the men’s basketball team measured players’ strain, recovery and sleep metrics with wearable fitness devices. 

All of these trends give our campus communities more convenience and richer opportunities for collaboration than ever before. They’re also pushing IT leaders to rethink the infrastructure supporting these trends: networks, data security solutions and storage.

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IT Leaders Rethink Networks for IoT

Keeping up with the demand for Wi-Fi connectivity is already a challenge for IT leaders in higher education. Students bring multiple devices to classrooms and residence halls; staff and faculty use mobile devices for work, teaching and collaboration; and bandwidth-intensive video has become integral to course materials. Now, IoT is increasing the pressure on campus networks even further. 

To expand Wi-Fi capabilities, institutions most often deploy more access points, according to a Center for Digital Education survey of K–20 IT professionals. That’s exactly what the University of Arkansas at Little Rock plans to do this year.

To help support emerging IoT technology use, according to networking solution provider Aruba, UA Little Rock is installing Aruba APs in residence halls and recreation areas, where students want to stream music and use smart assistants, and in academic areas, where researchers use devices like the Microsoft HoloLens.

Security Vulnerabilities Increase with Connected Devices

More connected devices represent a corresponding increase in potential points of vulnerability from a data security perspective. In the Campus Computing Project’s most recent higher ed technology survey, 81 percent of CIOs and senior campus IT officials at U.S. colleges said that upgrading and enhancing network and data security is one of their top five priorities.

To address IoT-related concerns specifically, a 2017 Gartner report recommends encryption, closer monitoring and the use of network segmentation to separate IoT devices from computers and other systems that house sensitive institutional data and are connected to the primary campus network. 

Cloud Solutions Help Meet Increased Storage Needs

Expanding bandwidth to handle increased network traffic and keeping data safe are enough to keep IT leaders busy. But they’ll also need to be proactive about where to store all the data that will accompany the IoT expansion. Consider that the number of connected consumer devices is projected to increase by more than 5 billion in the next two years, according to Gartner. 

That projection does not capture connected enterprise devices, and some of those systems are generating information on an almost constant basis. That means the resulting data could be significant. For example, utility sensors in buildings collect information about energy usage to help manage consumption, smart security cameras gather and analyze images to support public safety, and smart ID cards register students’ movements around campus. 

That’s one reason many institutions are turning to cloud storage solutions, according to the Center for Digital Education survey. The ability to scale up storage quickly gives institutions the flexibility to respond to changes in IoT device use as they occur, on each individual campus, without requiring an investment in additional hardware or running the risk of overprovisioning. Approximately one third of leaders who plan to boost campus connectivity say they also intend to expand their cloud infrastructure spending, according to Center for Digital Education research.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.