HIGHER EDTECH | By Julie Smith
The college experience has moved from static, one-dimensional learning to dynamic, collaborative and real-time learning. Though many factors contribute to this shift, we know that technology is playing an integral role in the transformation. Smartphones, digital content, virtual learning and social media are not only essential to the modern learning experience, they are critical to attracting prospective students and preparing current students for life beyond college.
Much of the push is driven by the students themselves who arrive on campus with a bevy of technology. Colleges are responding to students’ expectations by piloting e-text programs and offering campus-wide wireless access, just to name a few.
As student expectations continue to grow (93 percent of current high school students say technology is important in their prospective college*), universities will need to adopt new classroom technologies to meet those increasing demands.
But, it takes more than purchasing classroom devices to grow a technology program. While it is not often the first thing that comes to mind, a campus’ IT infrastructure is critical to supporting new classroom technology investments.
One component of CDW-G’s 21st-Century Campus Report, which I have discussed in previous articles, examined how IT infrastructure stacks up on campus. According to the findings, just 8 percent of IT professionals surveyed believe their current IT infrastructure makes the grade. Of the remaining respondents, 44 percent said, at the least, that their infrastructure could be refreshed.
When asked about areas that need the most improvement, almost half (49 percent) of IT professionals identified storage. Other areas of concern include IT security (43 percent), servers (40 percent), networking (39 percent) and wireless access (35 percent).
Based on the report’s findings, IT professionals make it clear that most campuses need to take another look at the infrastructure.
What’s in it for us?
Investment in IT infrastructure is a bridge to new Web 2.0 technologies. Investments in the back-end enable colleges and their students to participate in digital and online programs, for example, that are impossible without streamlined IT.
Additionally, a strong infrastructure provides many benefits that can lower costs and improve efficiencies, including:
Reduced operating and capital expenditures: Institutions can reap savings on these types of expenditures as a result of improved infrastructures. Virtualization, for example, enables campuses to reduce costs as the technology requires fewer physical servers
Reduced staffing costs: An optimized infrastructure lessens management requirements, which frees IT staff to work on more critical projects
Stable production capacity: Institutions can reduce their risk of depleted capacity and lower the possibility of outages, providing IT departments with confidence that networks will work, no matter what technologies they are supporting
Improved visibility: Institutions can see where their resources are going and how they are performing. Quantifiable metrics enable IT staff to showcase the value of IT purchases
Better performance: Enhanced bandwidth efficiency leads to increased application speeds, providing students and faculty with fast access to network resources and applications
Enhanced storage: An optimized environment (e.g. server virtualization) balances storage needs and allocates capacity among storage tiers, giving campuses room to support cutting-edge technology
Better security: Streamlined infrastructures provide a secure environment, ensuring that an institution’s data is protected from threats
To gain support for infrastructure improvements, campuses should identify key stakeholders and include them throughout the planning process. When evaluating the IT infrastructure, it is crucial to secure feedback from all users: administration, faculty, students and IT staff. From there, institutions will have a clear understanding of top priorities and be able to decide which components of the infrastructure need to be refreshed.
In the initial planning stage, institutions should also look to their IT vendors. Vendors can provide guidance on the investment, budget, timeline and potential pitfalls for implementation. Vendors can often become an extension of an institution’s IT staff, providing a wealth of service offerings and on-site support when needed.
Institutions can also seek support from vendors regarding the technology investment and secure guidance on which technology will work best for its needs. If a campus plans to move to a virtual environment, they could consider server virtualization, client and application virtualization, data center optimization, storage virtualization or network optimization. Talking with experts will help identify which solution best meets the institution’s needs.
Institutions can then begin implementation, which includes installation, testing and a focus on metrics to quantify how their networks improved with the updated infrastructure.
With a more efficient infrastructure, institutions will soon be able to realize significant cost benefits, freeing up funds for classroom technology and enabling campuses to keep up with the ever-increasing and changing student needs.
*According to the CDW-G 2010 21st-Century Campus Report
Julie Smith is vice president of higher education for CDW-G, where she leads a team providing best-in-class information technology products to address higher education institution issues with processes and reporting, state mandates, institutional funding, staff resources and technology standardization.