How Unified Access meets the unique new problems of IT in education

The rise of consumer devices and the BYOD trend is ongoing and few are being affected more than academia. Now mobile smart devices have become the status quo, universities and educational establishments need new ways of coping with this change.

Johan Ragmo, Business Development Director, Central North & Eastern Europe at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise shows us how Unified Access can be the solution to the problems facing academia's IT networks.

Students no longer arrive at the start of term with a satchel, pencil case and a keen look in their eye; they are tech-savvy and turning up with smartphones, tablets, laptops, games consoles – multiple IP enabled devices, mostly wireless and mobile. Lecturers demand to be able to use the device most appropriate to their research and have access to resources wherever they are. Add to this admin staff and suppliers all putting demands on WLANs and LANs and the IT department is in overdrive.

Education is probably one of the best examples of where new developments in Unified Access solves not just some, but all of the communications needs of its users – and puts the IT department back in control of its own networks.

Register once – use many times

The very nature of educational establishments such as universities and colleges means they have very transient populations. The beginning of a new term is a busy time for IT departments – new students with new devices, old students with old and new devices, wired and wireless networks covering specific areas – all needing network support and all consuming network resources.

Here's how Unified Access makes life easier for students, lecturers, suppliers – and the IT department. It's all to do with profiling stored within the Unified Access system, which means that anyone logging on only has to register once to get their access codes while Unified Access automatically sets the access parameters for each user.

So as part of a new term enrolment process, a student will be able to register his or her devices at the same time as courses and be given a unique student ID and a user profile based on course requirements, allowing them access to the materials and applications they need. The same for lecturers, admin staff, and even suppliers. By setting policies in this way, the IT department simplifies management of devices so that students or staff can add their own devices to their profile on the network, and the portal automatically gives them the right access depending on which device is in use at any given time with automatic on-boarding.

And it's not just devices being brought into the network – new campus equipment such as interactive whiteboards or automated library services also require access to the network in a reliable and secure way. Unified Access ensures that every user from lecturers and students to administrative staff and suppliers all have the right levels of connectivity in the right places at the right times. With network management set out in this way the process is streamlined, and new term teething problems are drastically reduced by simplifying the procedure for the network users, which ultimately saves the IT department valuable time and resources.

Prioritising user access means providing the right experience

Remember the famous Steve Jobs Apple iPhone4 demo when he had to ask everyone in the hall to turn off their WiFi because he had run out of bandwidth for his demo? For many legacy networks, the number of devices and users can have a crippling effect on network performance and user experience. A typical scenario could be a professor giving a lecture to a large audience of students, in which the professor requires network access so he or she may access multimedia material, or share documents and content. The students have come with their smartphones, laptops and tablets that are all connected, consuming network resources and overloading the access points, which then impacts the professor's ability to access the lecture material.

But this doesn't happen with a Unified Access approach, which is able to automatically prioritise the professor's profile over the students', making sure that regardless of the number of student smart devices in the lecture hall, the professor has the quality of service required to deliver the tools and material they need.

Unified Access prioritises not just on user profiles but on a mass of other criteria such as location and times of the day so the lecture hall students may have limited access while those using the network in a cafeteria can have more recreational access.

Application fluency offers valuable flexibility

As well as being able to recognise and control access based on user profiles, a Unified Access network needs to be application fluent – this means that it incorporates a high level of analytic ability that can automatically recognise and control the network access of specific applications.

A university campus may house thousands in student accommodation, all with different study timetables, all with multiple devices and all wanting network and Internet access. Students playing on games consoles, chatting with family on Skype, watching videos on YouTube or Netflix have the potential to cripple the network during teaching hours and negatively impact critical processes. An application fluent network eliminates this problem as it can recognise the applications being used and prioritise the applications used in teaching or research to ensure the quality connections required.

More is not necessarily better

Maintaining an efficient network these days takes more than just providing as much bandwidth as possible. A true network management system must ensure that users have access, but also that critical processes are well served by the network. This is achieved by recognising and controlling access based on three factors, the user profile, the application being used and the device type – whether wired or wireless.

Unified Access is enabling organisations such as education establishments to gain exceptional flexibility to customise and control networks based on their specific business, user and usage needs, enabling the IT department to provide its growing band of ever more demanding customers with the reliable wired and wireless access they need.

Editor`s note: Related BYOD articles

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Thoughts on BYOD

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