Universities turn to network monitoring

US universities have learned that if they are not routinely monitoring the demand on their IT networks, they run the risk of dropouts

By Brian Wilson

What happens to education IT networks as new technologies proliferate? The short answer: Networks can slow to a crawl, making all your distance learning, mobile interactions, and telepresence virtually worthless. That can damage productivity in learning, and it hurts the educational institution as a business.

Here in the US, Dartmouth College and the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) are among a growing number of academic leaders that have learned if they are not routinely monitoring the demand on their IT networks, they run the risk of slowdown, dropouts or other failures. 

On the bright side, unified networking monitoring (which looks across all network resources, both physical and virtual) provides many business benefits for colleges and universities. With the move to the cloud, for instance, this technology allows IT professionals to better understand which pieces of hardware communicate with the others, helping to identify redundant equipment to be eliminated, and significantly reducing labor costs to repair faulty system components. 

Using unified network monitoring also enables colleges and universities to continually monitor the health of their hybrid physical/cloud infrastructures, and to ensure seamless operations before, during and after a transition to the cloud. Some organisations have been able to reduce their on-premise physical infrastructure by over 90% in this transition. 

Dartmouth College adopted unified monitoring to better manage ongoing high demands on data centre services and allow for maximum flexibility as they transition their data centre infrastructure to the cloud. According to David Steiner, System Manager, Dartmouth College, “Maintaining our IT infrastructure requires a varied range of tools and technologies. Having an automated system that alerts the right chain of command is a huge differentiator for our team.”

But perhaps one of the most impressive business results in using unified network monitoring for improved network reliability – and easier transition to the cloud – comes from UMUC. Part of the University System of Maryland, UMUC is the largest public online university in the US, serving approximately 84,000  students worldwide from locations in College Park MD, Kaiserslautern, Germany and Yokota, Japan 

The organisation’s IT networks support both the student population and some 5,000 faculty and staff. With a wide range of third party classroom applications and a legacy learning management system, as well as internal support systems including everything from document management to human capital management, UMUC has a substantial need for network monitoring and maintenance.

As applications grow and financial considerations lead more colleges to the cloud, unified network monitoring is now a must-have tool to reduce downtime and increase operational efficiency

According to Greg Smith, UMUC’s Associate VP of Enterprise Operations, prior to embracing a single unified network monitoring system, the college was struggling with five different legacy network monitoring systems, each in a different states of disrepair. “None of these systems offered a full view of the health of the networks,” Smith said. 

By consolidating its resources under a single Software-as-a-Service unified monitoring system, UMUC was able to greatly reduce its physical IT infrastructure – to the tune of 97%, reducing its hardware from some 1500 pieces of gear around the world to under 100 now. 

Smith acknowledges that there is no inherent cost savings when moving to the cloud. The advantage, he says, comes in the scalability and built-in redundancy of cloud-based IT servers, which allow UMUC to nearly instantaneously grow its capacity to meet the growing computing needs of the college. He also notes that the college realises a considerably savings in repair costs with fewer pieces on hardware on premises. 

Unified network monitoring also gives college IT professionals an insight into network performance that they may not have any longer, because of what Smith calls IT’s shift from “server monitoring” to “service monitoring.” The emphasis on performance has switched from analysing individual pieces of hardware to understanding how that hardware is enabling faculty, staff and students to benefit from new technologies. Unified network monitoring allows IT experts to do both, essentially at once. 

It’s true that digital technology in the classroom has unleashed incredible opportunities for learning in colleges and universities. It also, however, has placed higher demands on these institutions’ IT operations teams. As applications grow and financial considerations lead more colleges to the cloud, unified network monitoring is now a must-have tool to reduce downtime and increase operational efficiency. 

Brian Wilson is Senior VP of Customer Success at Zenoss. He can be reached at bwilson@zenoss.com

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W: www.zenoss.com

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