Keith Bromley
Sr. Manager, Product Marketing at Ixia

Technology Changes Are Creating Significant Challenges for Higher Education

May 9, 2019 by Keith Bromley

The education sector is undergoing significant change. National enrollment for higher education has declined 3 percent across the United States since 2015, according to the 2017 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center annual study. Decreased student enrollment is affecting many Higher education institutions and resulting in increased competition, student demands for more cutting-edge facilities, and shrinking profit margins, even as course fees reach all-time highs.

Technology is being implemented to overcome the issue. However, that technology is introducing additional problems in the areas of:  security, performance, network availability, and mean time to repair. This makes it harder for IT personnel to keep the network running at optimum performance and deliver the quality of experience that the student population demands.

For instance, new technology trends are creating the following network and data monitoring challenges for IT:

  • Cybersecurity threats continue to represent a clear and present danger
  • Blended data center strategies require extensive monitoring solutions
  • Enhanced distance learning feeds require improved performance analysis
  • Bandwidth monitoring is required due to expanding application usage
  • Geographically distributed components are increasing troubleshooting time

As an example, one effort to respond to decreased admissions centers around a focus on a student-centered experience. For example, in addition to traditional classrooms, distance learning and mobile device support are being introduced to attract more millennials and older students. According to the 2017 Education infographic by Livestream, 77 percent of colleges offer online courses and 55 percent of college presidents predict that by 2022, all students will take at least some of their classes online.

However, implementing this new digital technology is not enough. Colleges and universities also need to ensure appropriate network and application performance for their remote distance learning feeds. Since live stream and on-demand video feeds are critically important, performance issues cannot be tolerated. This is a prime concern for both universities and K-12 institutions.

The key ingredient to optimum network and application performance is monitoring. You have to know what the network and its applications are, or are not, doing. Network visibility equipment, like taps and network packet brokers, can help.

Here is a list of clear visibility actions that can be implemented to address performance issues:

  • Remove on-premises blind spots – This is accomplished just by installing taps and network packet brokers (NPBs). These two components give you network performance monitoring (NPM) data access across your whole network.
  • Identify and document your network latency, on a per segment (as needed) basis – A proactive monitoring solution can be used to characterize your network. By actively testing between probes placed throughout your network, you can identify the latency, throughput, and quality of service across your whole network or just parts of it. This further allows you to understand performance issues and pinpoint where they occur.
  • Perform root cause analysis and debugging of performance issues – Once the taps and a packet brokers are installed, network data can be captured and sent to application performance monitoring (APM) tools for performance problem correlation and analysis to make sure that you maintain student quality of experience (QOE).
  • Remove cloud blind spots – Just as with the on-premises blind spot situation, cloud-based online education feeds can have issues as well. In this situation, a cloud visibility solution can be installed to collect packet-based data for those cloud apps and then the data can be passed on to an APM tool for analysis and QOE optimization.
  • Actively test network performance – When new applications are added to the network, this can affect network performance. A synthetic traffic generator allows you to respond to complaints about application or network slowness by actively testing different segments within your network to isolate and remediate problems faster. It can also be used to test software updates before they go live.

The following diagram illustrates how these technologies can be inserted into a generic education network.


Performance monitoring for Higher Ed

If you want more information on the five technology challenges and suggestions to overcome them, read this whitepaper to learn how network visibility solutions can mitigate, and even eliminate, the technology challenges for your institution.