How cloud networking can drive post-pandemic digital success for colleges and universities

Digital transformation is everywhere. From banking to healthcare, the pandemic has accelerated the push to streamline internal processes, trim costs and deliver innovative new end-user experiences. Education has not always been at the cutting edge of such IT modernisation efforts, but it too has been rapidly playing catch-up over the course of the crisis. In the race to attract students back, universities and colleges are being forced to rethink how their IT infrastructure is architected.

They need to provide better performing, more secure networks capable of delivering enriched, personalised learning experiences. And they need to do this in a low cost, agile and scalable manner. In short, higher and further education institutions need cloud networking.

The story so far

Cloud computing lies at the heart of cross-sector digital transformation projects. It delivers speed, scalability and IT flexibility without the need for organisations to stump up major CapEX funding. It’s no surprise that the global market for such services in the education sector is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% over the coming years to reach nearly £6.6bn by 20271. Yet up until now, much of that investment has been used to fund the hosting of online software such as email and productivity suites, learning management systems, CRM, and curriculum content.

Research from 20202 revealed that only 17% of education institutions were managing their IT networks in the cloud. This is a major missed opportunity. The network increasingly sits at the beating heart of a college or university – even more so now that students may be keen to blend in-person with remote studying. Its performance can have a significant financial and reputational impact on an institution – shaping the staff and student experience, and dictating how well cost and cyber security pressures can be handled.

The good news is the same study revealed that 40% of education institutions had plans to move their IT network to the cloud within five years.

The pressure is on

The UK’s colleges and universities are facing an unprecedented and diverse set of challenges today. The first is financial. A report3 from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted overall losses from the pandemic could reach as high as £19bn in the long-term, close to half of the sector’s annual income. It added that 13 universities educating around 5% of students could end up with “negative reserves”, meaning they could suffer insolvency without a government bailout.

At the same time, the country’s higher and further education institutions must continue their digitalisation efforts which they started pre-COVID, but now made more urgent by the advent of hybrid learning. That means networking infrastructure capable of supporting seamless connectivity amidst surging levels of staff and student smart devices. Research reveals2 that most (58%) institutions have had issues with network availability over the past few years, and the vast majority (95%) wish they could proactively detect issues before they impact students and staff.

It’s increasingly important that they do, not only to deliver seamless learning experiences but also to support eSports initiatives and other online extra-curriculum activities that can have a major impact on student engagement, recruitment and retention. After a pandemic in which many institutions were criticised4 for delivering sub-par digital experiences, the pressure is on to recapture student hearts and minds.

The final challenge is to do all of this without exposing staff, students and sensitive IP to malicious third parties. Ransomware attacks on the UK’s education sector built to such levels that government security agency the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was forced to issue new warnings and guidance last year5. It’s not merely about the threat of operational outages but also stolen personal staff and student data that could be used in follow-on identity theft. Government-backed spies are also on the lookout for sensitive research IP which they can use to enrich home-grown companies and state coffers6.

Smarter network management

The question is how to overcome these wide-ranging challenges without breaking the bank. Cloud-based networking offers a good place to start. Whereas in the past, higher and further education institutions bought and maintained network management software, servers and hardware in-house, today it can all be done via the cloud. That means enterprise-class network management capabilities for WiFi access points, switches, and routers which require little or no capital investment. And a move away from time-consuming manual configuration and multiple interfaces to centralised management, frictionless delivery and automation.

It’s not just about reducing total cost of ownership (TCO), CapEX and OpEX. Cloud networking platforms like Extreme Networks’ ExtremeCloud™ IQ offer artificial intelligence capabilities which drive proactive network performance improvements to optimise staff and students’ digital experiences. In a similar way, network traffic intelligence can even be used to identify students that require additional support (by, for example, identifying those repeatedly failing to log-on for classes).

Security challenges certainly don’t go away in the cloud. But with the right trusted partnerships, they can be minimised. Whereas in-house networking teams may struggle to stay on top of mounting cyber threats, specialist cloud providers typically have more resources and the advantage of economies-of-scale to address the problem. ExtremeCloud™ IQ adheres to strict compliance standards like ISO 27001, for example.

With much of the heavy lifting now outsourced to a cloud-based network management provider, stretched college and university IT teams are free to pursue more strategic, high-value projects. This is a formula for long-term success as the post-pandemic era begins in earnest.

Daisy is an Extreme Networks Ultimate Master Partner. Holding Extreme’s highest possible level of accreditation, we offer unparalleled expertise from design and scoping to full operation of ExtremeCloud™ IQ, providing ongoing, award-winning support.

If you want to learn more about how cloud networking can help you address the needs of IT and network management staff, teaching and support staff, students, and visitors, read our guide below.

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References

1 Cloud Computing in Higher Education Market 2021 Industry Growth, Size, Share, Global Forecasts Analysis, Company Profiles, Competitive Landscape and Key Regions Analysis Research Report 2030  (Converted USD to GBP)

2 Extreme Networks Survey 2020

3 Institute for Fiscal Studies: Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis?

4 InfoWorld: Higher education embraces cloud computing just in time

5 NCSC Report: Further ransomware attacks on the UK education sector

6 ZDNet: Hackers are targeting UK universities to steal coronavirus research

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