Spotlight on Computer Networking

The connected campus has become the standard for colleges and universities around the world as students expect to be able to access information anytime and anywhere learning may take place.

Doug Burke, senior director, Network Infrastructure Systems and Services at the University of San Diego (USD), knows this well, as he is responsible for Telecommunications and Network Infrastructure, CATV, cellular services, servers, and maintaining four data centers. College Planning & Management caught up with Doug to discuss the importance of a robust network, good user-experience, and some of the network-related challenges facing institutions in the future.

Q. What are some of the most daunting challenges facing colleges and universities when it comes to networks?

A. For higher education, it is maintaining the students’ expectations for WiFi connectivity everywhere on campus. Students today have grown up with the Internet, WiFi, and mobile devices, and they expect on-demand connectivity that is as good as or better than they had at home. Additionally, for the campuses, it is finding ways to easily connect mobile devices to a secure enterprise network.

Q. For institutions planning a new network, or an upgrade, what are some important things that need to be considered?

A. End-user experience! As I said previously, students want to be mobile and are demanding connectivity with​ all of their devices. You cannot go halfway. We have spoken to other campuses who are behind the curve for WiFi connectivity and students are actively complaining directly to university presidents, resulting in bad PR for those campuses. That can only be good news for a new CIO who is looking for a challenging environment.

Q. What are some ways to ensure a campus network stays secure?

A. This is definitely a difficult subject because most universities ​want their campuses​ to be unrestricted in their access to information. We are constantly evaluating and adopting new methods of security. Tools such as firewalls, anti-virus appliances, a network access control (NAC) solution, and two-factor authentication are a few of the ways to balance security and convenience with academic freedom.

Q. Are there any new tools that make higher-ed IT administrators’ jobs easier in regard to networks?

​A. Providing a user-friendly technology experience for our students is key. Today, students bring three to six Internet (WiFi)-capable devices to campus. By making it easy for them to register and connect those devices, our jobs are easier. We have registered everything from game stations, Internet TVs, and washers and dryers, to a WiFi-enabled bathroom scale. You must be prepared to connect all these devices, yet still protect your network.