network design
best practices

Author: Katie McNeil

By 2025, students entering college campuses will be mobile natives—that is, born after the first iPhone came to market. The modern learning experience takes advantage of technology such as virtual reality and 5G. These not only provide immersive learning opportunities but can also help expand how higher education programs can be delivered.

The importance of campus network design

However, new technologies may only have a limited impact if the network infrastructure isn’t properly designed to handle modern higher education network and security requirements. Pandemic remote learning stretched many campus networks to the limit. Institutions are more dependent on tech than ever, but tightening budgets can limit their capacity to modernize. Supporting the digital backbone of a modern campus takes resources and skills that might be in short supply. For example, the median IT department spending per student is $1,316 according to Educause. In one survey of university IT professionals, budget cuts impacted 65% of colleges and universities during the 2020-21 school year and the median IT budget decrease was 10%.

Recent years have shown the value of having a flexible network that can easily scale and evolve to meet the ongoing needs of students and staff. A smart campus network can strategically leverage new technology and robust network infrastructure to enhance collaboration, provide meaningful learning experiences and enhance campus safety.

Campus network design best practices

There's no one-size-fits-all campus network design, but the following best practices can help ensure your campus is smart, fast and secure.

Segmented networks

Colleges serve a staggering number of user endpoints. One university estimated it had almost as many wired and wireless university-owned devices as students, while a separate report by Educause found a majority of students reported connecting to two or more devices daily. To address the need for security and efficiency, university IT departments should consider a segmented campus network design. Segmented networks run on the same physical infrastructure but are logically separated by using logical or physical switches at the network edge. These switches allow the campus IT department to separate devices into virtual local area networks (VLANs) by the type of user—student, staff, faculty or guest.

Connect with campus area networks

Many university IT departments connect students, faculty and staff to the internet with a campus area network (CAN). These networks cover a limited geographical area (in contrast to metropolitan or wide area networks) and connect buildings and departments by connecting multiple local area networks (LAN). Because all data is self-contained within the network, users experience minimal latency when accessing content.

Distributed networks for minimal latency

For uninterrupted learning, the campus network design should be distributed for minimal latency. In addition to using a CAN for interdepartmental connection, edge computing—infrastructure near end-user locations—minimizes the distance data needs to travel and reduces latency.

Another way to minimize latency is using a content delivery network (CDN) placed in strategic locations close to end users and their devices. Content is cached in CDNs so that data packets don't need to travel from the original server. This is best for content that is delivered to many end users, as expected with streaming media applications.

Provision of bandwidth on demand

Remotely configuring higher bandwidth can help university IT departments stay nimble as needs change. For example, if a department requires a high-speed connection for a data-intensive research project, that network segment can be virtually deprovisioned when the project ends. With the right core fiber networks and software to control resources, what used to take months to deploy can now take minutes.

Ensure your university IT department budget assumes increasing bandwidth needs. The Federal Communications Commission estimates traffic needs will grow 10 times over the next four years.

The role of security in university IT

Of the top 10 issues facing college IT departments, protecting and securing data ranks No.1. What offers students and faculty more flexibility—hybrid learning on multiple devices—offers cyber criminals multiple openings to infiltrate. The Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report found the education sector "continues to be impacted by attacks targeting their external infrastructure." The report notes external actors with financial motives are largely responsible.

Enhance your cyber security

Mitigating your security risks means strengthening, securing and modernizing your network infrastructure. When considering your campus network design, some elements to consider include, for example, the enhanced security benefits of smaller segregated subnetworks (VLANs). Firewalls can limit traffic flow between VLANs of differing security levels. Three layers of firewalls—perimeter, network and host—can ensure separation and high security between subnetworks.

Endpoint security

Mobile device management solutions can mitigate endpoint risk by streamlining how you manage mobility and protect data using a single management portal. IT administrators should require personal devices to register on these solutions to access the network. Restricted data on mobile devices—whether campus-owned or personal— should be encrypted using approved encryption techniques and password protected. Campus-owned devices should be registered to allow university IT staff to lock or wipe data if the device is lost or stolen.

Benefitting from the cloud

From students' personal information to sensitive research study data, universities generate and store a staggering amount of data, much of it sensitive. Cloud computing allows universities to store data on the internet rather than bulky on-site servers and to scale operations and rent processing power without the need for infrastructure on standby.

The pandemic reinforced the benefit of the cloud. Universities that embraced cloud computing pre-pandemic had a much easier transition to remote learning. The cost savings (both resources, time and money) and ability to scale operations quickly make cloud computing an efficient solution for budget-conscious university IT departments.

Similarly, many universities saw performance and security benefits from consolidating their IT providers. Verizon is a trusted higher education partner with the experience and breadth to support higher education:

  • The Verizon Network as a Service (NaaS) platform can help you support the delivery of dynamic applications and services while enabling advanced 5G technologies.
  • The connected campus portfolio leverages 5G Ultra Wideband1 to expose students to the power of possibilities.
  • The range of security solutions can help you safeguard student, faculty and university data by helping to modernize your campus network design.

Learn more about how you can transform your campus and stay education ready with help from Verizon's technology solutions.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

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