Oct 22 2019

Mitigating Security Risks When Campus Network Demands Surge

IT leaders need the flexibility and visibility to provide safe network access during high-demand events.

Whether it’s welcoming students back to campus after summer and winter breaks or preparing for the network onslaught of course registration, IT teams can and should expect periodic surges of network traffic. 

When these events occur and network usage soars, IT teams must ensure users have the bandwidth they need while keeping security concerns front of mind

Ensuring students have access to Wi-fi and the ability to stream, download and access coursework in their dorm room as well as the library is important to maintaining student satisfaction, but there are potential financial repercussions when universities can’t balance the need for robust network access and security.

“Poorly managed services lead to a loss of visibility for the entire infrastructure and can result in blocked communications or unavailable service. In addition, teachers, staff members, and students all demand extreme flexibility,” writes security expert Dennis Borin. “If institutions can’t stay competitive, they lose potential students, endowment dollars or funding, and even their reputations.”

To ensure all university stakeholders can access their networks safely and efficiently — whether to successfully sign up for a class or to hand in a research paper — IT leaders can employ modern network management tools

Increased Visibility Can Mitigate Cyberthreats During Surges

As the number of network users climbs and the level of demand each individual has on that network increases, higher education IT leaders may find some malicious activity falls through the cracks

Bad actors cannot be allowed to infiltrate a university’s network, especially during a time on campus where network use is surging, precisely because students, faculty and staff need access more than usual.

Universities can expand their network visibility by upgrading their network infrastructure to a solution such as Cisco Meraki’s cloud-managed access points, just like the Community College of Denver. By integrating cloud technologies into their networks, IT leaders can manage network endpoints from a unified dashboard, giving them the reach they need to protect their networks, no matter how busy they are. 

“We can now monitor the network in a cohesive way, whereas in the past, we might have had to use additional software or monitoring devices,” Chris Arcarese, IT director at the Community College of Denver, says in a Cisco case study

Prepare for Internet Surges Ahead of Time with Modern Monitoring Tools

While some network surges may occur randomly, there are times those spikes can be predicted and prepared for, such as during finals week or on the first day of school.

At Clemson University, Security Infrastructure and Operations Director John Hoyt understood that when these network surges occurred, students would be at risk of falling victim to bad actors.

“As a research university, Clemson can be a bit like the Wild West,” says Hoyt in a Gigamon case study. “Students, faculty and researchers — including those traveling abroad — all want to easily connect, collaborate and share over an open network, but at the same time, my team is responsible for protecting sensitive, critical assets like their personal data and research. It can be tough to maintain a balance between network access, performance and protection.”

As a solution, Hoyt invested in Gigamon network monitoring services, which uses artificial intelligence to help Clemson IT officials mitigate any risks that could come from high network workloads before the network comes crashing down.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities can benefit from switching to cloud network monitoring services.

Looking Ahead as Personal Devices Increase

It is also important to remember while it is essential to plan for the short spurts of network demand over the course of the school year, IT leaders should also be thinking about the long term. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Infoblox, 61 percent of students are using tablets, 27 percent are using smartwatches and 25 percent are using gaming consoles to connect to the internet. 

“Where a few years ago IT administrators only had to worry about managing the school’s devices, and potentially student and faculty laptops, that is no longer the case,” writes Victor Danevich, CTO of Systems Engineering at Infoblox, citing an Infoblox study. “The survey found that 60 percent of faculty, students and IT professionals use four or more devices on the campus network.”

As online classes, esports and active learning all mature and converge on higher education campuses, IT leaders must keep these longer-term shifts in mind as they future-proof and build their network infrastructure for the long haul.

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

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