Blog :: NDR

5 ways university networks need to shift in the post-pandemic world


It’s fall here on the east coast of the US and that means a few things. First is that the weather and leaves start changing and the second is that students start going back to school. I live in a college town, so seeing Franklin Street teaming with young minds ready to be molded is refreshing since there has been little sign of that over the past 48 months. The reality is that things still aren’t the same. 

In the past 48 months, the academic world has gone from the traditional campus that served an online footprint to a highly integrated hybrid education system to the likes we have never seen before. For example, my daughter is coming into her senior year of high school and, to her glee, will be fully remote. Not only that but she will also be taking a college IT class. The world has changed drastically since I was a young geek dreaming of being a digital nomad. 

With the social and technological revolution that we are in now, university networks are being tested every day and face challenges that seemed farfetched ten years ago.

For example, the end-user base for universities changes constantly with students coming and going each semester. This is old news but with the accelerated adoption of distance learning the lines between traditional and nontraditional students are blurred and the model of the traditional residential student has evolved bringing with it a bucket of challenges. 

In addition to that, the evolution of what we understand as a “campus” has changed also. 

With all these changes schools and universities are seeing unprecedented demand for network monitoring and cyber security. Here are the 5 ways university networks need to shift in the post-pandemic world.

  • Increase Visibility – This is a no-brainer. As the network and its resources expand so does the demand on your team and its resources. The problem is that many of today’s education environments lack visibility into their network. I see this over and over and over. Matter of fact, in many of my presentations I emphasize that network data needs to be the foundation for many of today’s NOC and SOC teams. The difficulty is gaining that visibility.

Depending on the deployment method, gaining this level of visibility can be costly, unmanageable, or tedious at best. That is where enhanced metadata, like NetFlow and IPFIX, can help. By employing your current environment and its inherent technology, you can turn your entire network into a monitoring tool and gain the needed visibility. 

  • Ability to Monitor Bandwidth Needs Continually – In addition to this needed visibility, you need to monitor performance metrics intelligently. Although resource optimization is a common job requirement for NetOps teams the demand for seamless everything has gone from being a goal to a requirement. I’ve worked with quite a few school systems using a strategic approach to deal with this. with a probe or SNMP. Again, enhanced metadata can be a better fit. It can provide the needed performance metrics that help you monitor mission-critical services like live video classrooms, but also can tell you what other applications were being used during that time, who was evolved, and a depth of other information that helps you ensure the students and faculty are getting the resources they need. 
  • Adapt to Tech-Savvy Learning and the Shifting Role of Technology – Face it, the students are quicker to adopt new technology than we are. It’s also extremely difficult for network monitors to adapt to this change. My experience tells me that many of today’s schools and universities are having a difficult time providing the open world it was built on and the demands of today’s ever-changing technology and the associated threats. 
  • Managing Threats – As I mentioned above, today’s universities need visibility across the board. Although valuable, that data only solves half the need. Today’s solutions need to monitor that data for threat patterns and abnormal behavior. It then needs to correlate that data in an easier-to-understand way so you can evaluate it for further investigation. Lessening the time to resolution is the key. 
  • Managing Costs – Across the board, everyone is understaffed. Universities and academic environments need to add to their resources but general hiring is just out of the question because they might not have the budget or finding talent is difficult. That is where machine learning comes into play. Ask how they plan to augment your team to monitor traffic, how are they automatically going to provide you with information that allows you to quickly investigate an incident? How is all this going to be in alignment with your budget?