eCampus News: How Intelligent Networks Can Simplify IT’s Life

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Higher education faces the perfect storm: Dramatic increases in mobile connectivity needs, coupled with tight IT resources. Technology is integral to learning at every level, and students come to campus with high expectations for great connectivity. Especially at public universities, many IT budgets are just now recovering from the 2008 recession. And retaining highly skilled IT professionals has always been difficult for universities, with the private sector offering higher salaries.

Autonomous networks can relieve this stress. Intelligent network technology is developing rapidly, and increasingly, networks are using artificial intelligence (AI) to configure, diagnose, optimize and fix themselves. When the network can manage itself, it reduces the burden of manual configuration, monitoring and maintenance performed by IT staff. And that lets IT professionals focus on initiatives that deliver strategic value to the university.

eCampus News recently interviewed higher education leaders to understand how automation and artificial intelligence helps them meet the demand for connectivity in the face of an IT resource crunch.

You can read the full white paper here.

“If we didn’t have access to some of these software tools, we would not be able to provide the services at the scale we do today,” says David Morton, director of mobile communications at the University of Washington. In addition to its downtown Seattle campus, the university has two satellite campus, two hospitals and 20 clinics. Its proximity to Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing means the competition is fierce for network engineering talent.

Source: eCampus News Intelligent Networks

Source: eCampus News Intelligent Networks

Automation Relieves the Burden

Swarthmore, a renown liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, used automation to relieve the burden of deploying a new wireless network to support student and faculty’s mobile lifestyle. The IT team at Swarthmore automatically configured the mobility controllers and access points, completing a job in just hours, rather than days.

University of Washington and Swarthmore run an Aruba network, as does Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachussets, which was also profiled in the eCampus News report. With ArubaOS 8, these three universities have an always-on network that delivers on the expected performance, user experience and reliability needed to support the high-density client needs of classrooms, administration, and dorm life.

“As devices and applications have become more mobile, the expectation is that the service just works, “says Morton.  “Those expectations grow higher and higher each day.”

Built into ArubaOS 8 is AirMatch. It  uses machine learning intelligence to automatically optimize RF channels, adjust transmit power and tune channels every 24 hours. The result is an optimally performance wireless LAN while minimizing the need for hands-on RF engineering – and  a better user experience. This is the perfect solution for those lecture halls that their density varies all the time so AirMatch can adjust its channel and channel width according to the density.

“By letting the network manage its own power and channel settings, I can dedicate a much smaller number of engineer hours to routine maintenance, and have the engineers focus on higher-return projects instead,” says Frank Sweetser, director of network operations at Worchester Polytechnic Institute, a private research university in Massachusetts.

Intelligent network features like Aruba’s ClientMatch makes it possible to deliver the optimal user experience even in a large lecture hall. It solves the “sticky” client problem, where a device associates with the first AP it sees and as you roam it could still be connected to that first AP. So ClientMatch intelligently moves the client to the best available AP that has the best Signal to noise ratio.

Always-On Reliability

It’s commonplace to maintain redundant controllers and switches to minimize downtime in the event of a failure. However, if an outage occurs, the users often lose their applications sessions. Phone calls drop. Complaints to the service desk and most probably to social media ensue.

ArubaOS 8 offers seamless failover so the user experience isn’t impacted if a mobility controller goes down. Controllers are clustered, and a student’s learning application, Skype conversation or Fortnite battle will continue uninterrupted.

Finding maintenance windows for network upgrades can be difficult when connectivity is required around the clock, but with Aruba’s Live Upgrade capability, IT can refresh the entire network operating system without any downtime.

Unified Wired and Wireless Network Policy

Clear visibility across both wired and wireless networks is essential for delivering a consistent user experience. Universities have many wired devices – digital signs, smart whiteboards, surveillance cameras and building automation systems, to name a few. Increasingly, sensors monitor room temperature and other environmental conditions. And students bring an armload of devices to campus – phones, laptops, gaming devices and wearable fitness monitors for starters.

University of Washington unified its wired and wired network, which it manages as a unified whole. “Every issue—wired or wireless—comes through the same front door, the same network operations center and the same tier-one and tier-two support teams,” says Morton.

With Aruba AirWave, they can gain a unified view of performance across both networks, making it easier to configure and scale systems.

Dynamic segmentation, a key feature of ArubaOS 8, makes delivering consistent policies across wired and wireless far simpler. This technology allows wireless policies to be extended to the wired network, so organizations have a single unified policy, regardless of how the user is connected.

In addition, universities can use Aruba’s MultiZone feature to create multiple separate secure networks, while using the same APs in the same physical location. That makes it possible, for instance, to support digital learning applications, financial systems, and visitor Wi-Fi on the same physical infrastructure, while ensuring that traffic from each zone remains completely isolated.

Go Deeper

Read the eCampus white paper How Intelligent Networks Can Simplify IT’s Life.

Learn more about ArubaOS 8.