Digital transformation is everywhere. From banking to healthcare, the pandemic has accelerated the drive to streamline internal processes, cut costs and deliver innovative new experiences for end users. Education has not always been at the forefront of such IT modernization efforts, but even during the crisis it has quickly caught up. In the race to attract students back, universities and colleges are forced to rethink the way their IT infrastructure is designed.
They need to deliver more secure, better performing networks that deliver personalized and enriched learning experiences. And they need to do it in a low-cost, agile and scalable way. In short, higher and higher education institutions need cloud networks.
The story so far away
Cloud computing is at the heart of cross-sector digital transformation projects. It offers speed, scalability and IT flexibility without organizations needing to accumulate significant CapEX funding. Unsurprisingly, the global market for such education services is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% over the next few years to reach nearly £ 6.6 billion by 2027.1. However, until now, much of that investment has been used to finance 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 educational institutions operated their IT networks in the cloud. This is a great missed opportunity. The web is increasingly the beating heart of a college or university, all the more so now that students may be eager to blend in person with distance learning. Its performance can have a significant financial and reputational impact on an institution, shaping the experience of staff and students and determining how well cost and cybersecurity pressures can be managed.
The good news is that the same study revealed that 40% of educational institutions had plans to move their IT network to the cloud within five years.
The blood pressure is high
UK colleges and universities are now facing an unprecedented and diverse set of challenges. The first is financial. A report3 of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted that overall losses from the pandemic could reach £ 19 billion in the long run, nearly half of the industry’s annual income. He added that 13 universities that educate about 5 percent of students could end up with “negative reserves,” meaning they could go bankrupt without a government bailout.
At the same time, the country’s higher and higher education institutions must continue their digitization efforts that started before COVID but now made more urgent by the advent of hybrid learning. This means a network infrastructure that can support seamless connectivity between growing levels of staff and intelligent student devices. Research reveals2 that most institutions (58%) have had problems with network availability in recent years and the vast majority (95%) want to be able to proactively detect problems before they impact students and staff.
It is increasingly important that they do so, not only to provide seamless learning experiences, but also to support eSports initiatives and other online extracurricular activities that can have a major impact on student engagement, recruitment and retention. After a pandemic in which many institutions have been criticized4 for the delivery of sub-par digital experiences, the pressure increases to win back the hearts and minds of students.
The ultimate challenge is to do all of this without exposing staff, students, and sensitive IPs to malicious third parties. Ransomware attacks on the UK education sector have reached such levels that the government security agency, the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), was forced to issue new warnings and guidelines last year.5. This is not just the threat of operational disruptions, but also the theft of personal staff and student data that could be used in subsequent identity theft. Government-backed spies are also on the lookout for sensitive search IPs they can use to enrich local businesses and state coffers6.
Smarter network management
The question is how to overcome these wide-ranging challenges without breaking the bank. The cloud-based network offers a good starting point. While in the past, higher education and higher education institutions bought and maintained software, servers and hardware for network management in-house, today everything can be done through the cloud. This means enterprise-class network management capabilities for WiFi access points, switches and routers that require little or no capital investment. And the transition from time-consuming manual configuration and multiple interfaces to centralized management, delivery and automation smoothly.
It’s not just about reducing total cost of ownership (TCO), CapEX and OpEX. Cloud networking platforms such as Extreme Networks’ ExtremeCloud ™ IQ offer artificial intelligence capabilities that drive proactive improvements in network performance to optimize the digital experiences of staff and students. Similarly, network traffic intelligence can also be used to identify students who require additional support (for example, by identifying those who repeatedly fail to access lessons).
Security challenges certainly don’t go away in the cloud. But with the right trusted partnerships, they can be minimized. While internal network teams may struggle to keep pace with growing cyber threats, specialized cloud service providers typically have more resources and the benefit of economies of scale to address the problem. ExtremeCloud ™ IQ adheres to strict compliance standards such as ISO 27001, for example.
With much of the heavy lifting now outsourced to a cloud-based network management provider, IT teams at colleges and universities 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 Ultimate Master Partner of Extreme Networks. With Extreme’s highest level of accreditation possible, we offer an unprecedented experience from the design and scope to full operation of ExtremeCloud ™ IQ, providing continuous, award-winning support.
If you want to learn more about how cloud networking can help you meet the needs of IT and network management staff, teaching and support staff, students and visitors, read our guide below.
1Cloud Computing in Higher Education Market 2021 Industry Growth, Size, Share, Global Forecast Analysis, Company Profiles, Competitive Landscape and Key Region Analysis 2030 Research Report (Converted from USD to GBP)
How cloud networking can drive post-pandemic digital success for colleges and universities
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