Convergence is a funny thing. It often occurs in the least likely instances and when least expected.
Take mobility and continuity of operations (COOP). Technology teams have long viewed providing services to remote users as critical to maintaining operations during and following a disaster or crisis.
But the notion of "remote," until recently, was not really thought about or planned for in the context of mobile users or distance learning. Yet, clearly, the convergence has begun taking place on campuses nationwide.
What that convergence requires of IT teams and COOP committees on campus is a fresh take on disaster planning. It's important to rethink preparedness within the framework of a whenever, wherever learning environment.
Outages on campus aren't likely to affect coursework or classes when the focus is on the professor-at-the-podium model of instruction. Back-end administrative systems might fail or hallways might darken, but classes and coursework have tended to carry on (except if the disaster is on the scale of a Katrina-sized hurricane or a Colorado Springs–type wildfire).
But what about when an institution provides some or even all of its courses online — or offers blended learning? Can the institution serve its users 24x7 no matter what? It will need to be able to do that — after all, that's one of the hallmarks and attractions of e-learning.
In this age of mobile users, flipped classrooms, bring-your-own-device initiatives and blended learning, continuity capabilities hinge on fault-tolerant and highly available infrastructures.
The move to virtualized environments, cloud computing and unified communications all reflect work on the part of higher education IT organizations to be ready for anything.
Once a college establishes a high-availability environment, it can ensure far more than the continuity of its online programs — it can provide failover for any and all disaster recovery (DR) administrative systems too. Plus, this approach means the campus technology staff will be able to provide options for traditional courses as well, whether a crisis lasts a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks.
IT leaders on many campuses have taken to simply doing away with DR planning that's based on the types of disaster that might befall their institutions.
72% Percentage of university IT staff who believe that virtual learning is essential to a 21st century classroom
SOURCE: CDW•G 21st Century Campus Report
Instead, they plot these strategies based on a series of "what if we lost X technology tool or IT service" scenarios. That's ideal because it focuses the resources on uptime rather than calamity.
Paying IT Forward
When budgeting for necessary infrastructure upgrades that might be required by a revised DR strategy, consider that the potential return on investment can be calculated both in dollars and in the loss of reputation of the institution in the educational community that would result because of downtime. The first is a cost tied directly to an event, but the second can linger and require the expenditure of a great many resources to restore.
Additionally, by taking a broad approach to these technology needs, an IT organization can subsume some costs as they refresh systems that have reached their end of life.
All these efforts will help campuses thrive in a mobile- and digital-friendly environment.