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Education institutions need smart, secure, future-ready Wi-Fi

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By Aravind Vasudevan, marketing director , Asia Pacific & Japan, Ruckus Networks

Modern classrooms today boast of slim handheld wireless devices instead of cumbersome textbooks. Blending concepts and learning models such as e-learning and electronic whiteboards, an increasingly digital curriculum is not only engaging students but also aiding educators to be more effective.

For educators, ensuring consistent and secure access to world-class educational resources also means having a reliable and secure connectivity to the networks powering such institutional infrastructure.

Students in higher educational institutions today typically come with at least a smartphone, laptop and tablet. They expect to use these seamlessly on campus. Multiply that by a few thousand students and you can begin to see the IT department’s challenge in providing reliable connectivity and high-bandwidth.

For example, Sunway University in Malaysia is home to over 18,000 students and 1500 staff members. At any one time, the organisation sees at least 8000 users online concurrently. One of the unique challenges that Sunway University and the rest of the education sector face is providing quality Wi-Fi coverage to support areas with a high density of users, as students tend to congregate in selected locations, such as the canteen or library.

Thus, Sunway University deployed new access points (AP) solutions that leverage new technologies, such as the BeamFlex adaptive antenna technology, that mitigates radio interference, noise and network performance issues, and improve application flows. This enables its IT department to increase performance and range while enhancing their support for clear video and voice communications on Wi-Fi.

Network and density issues aside, education institutions also face many other challenges, such as making the onboarding experience more seamless and secure, without asking students to re-enter login credentials multiple times daily or avoiding IT department helpdesks getting buried in password support tickets. These are but some of the issues that IT departments need to resolve today and in the future.

To address the burgeoning list of requirements and expectations of students and educators, institutions need to look at building a reliable, secure and manageable network. They can do so by keeping in mind three important things:

  • Ensuring simple and seamless self-service access for student-owned devices
  • Stress-free security
  • Scalability and future-proofing

There needs to be a single point of entry to onboard practically any user-owned device by the students. With certificate-based onboarding, secure access is linked to the device, not just to a user account. That way, students can reconnect automatically in future, without having to constantly re-enter credentials.

BYOD should not mean “bring your own security vulnerabilities.” There need to be enterprise-wide, scalable, gold standards for wireless encryption. Enforcing these standards through the cloud will allow IT managers to both configure policies and provision for different types of users and devices without manual intervention. One of the technologies they can explore is advanced pre-shared key (PSK) solutions.

For example, the Wi-Fi network in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta State University (YSU) campus was difficult to manage and had some security issues. Students and staff accessed a common network which resulted in the occasional misuse of others’ accounts. The IT staff also found themselves spending three hours daily dealing with simple matters such as password resets.

To address these challenges, the university deployed Ruckus’ Dynamic Pre-Shared Key (DPSK) which could distinguish the lecturers’ and students’ networks, making Wi-Fi usage more secure. Together with the Ruckus Zero-IT feature, lecturers and students can directly conduct authentication using their user ID, making user management much more efficient and simpler. By utilising user ID and email, users can instantly access the Internet without assistance from the IT department, reducing the burden and cost of help desk tickets.

Many education institutions fail to plan for scale and future growth when building their IT infrastructure. As more wireless users access cloud and data-intensive applications on their devices, the demand for high-speed, resilient edge networks will continue to increase.

Implementing advanced switching solutions is one of the cornerstones that educational institutions need to support next-generation network requirements. They need a switching portfolio that can deliver high-performance switching capabilities to meet current and future network demand, including high-density Wi-Fi deployments, UHD video streaming, line rate encryption and single point of management. Switching solutions such as the Ruckus ICX 7650 family can lay a solid Wi-Fi infrastructure that has reliability, simplified management and the capability to scale and future-proof itself.

Connectivity is now considered an important part of modern life. Students come to campus expecting all their devices to connect easily. They want to get their research and assignments done and yet be able to enjoy content and gaming in-between classes. They expect Wi-Fi that just works. Educators need to ask themselves if they are able to provide this to them.

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