3 min

Automation Makes Quick Work of Campus Network Optimization

Higher education IT departments can save time and money with cloud-managed networking solutions.

Optimizing a network involves more than simply connecting its components effectively. In the modern era of networking, it means leveraging automation and visibility to ease the burden on IT staff and ensure that users have the best experience possible. 

This capability is especially important in higher education, given the number of connected devices on campus, the demand for pervasive wireless connectivity and the need to manage onsite and remote access to various networks. Network optimization solutions — including profiling tools, sensors and network management platforms — address these needs by improving efficiency, performance and security. 

Larger institutions may run network optimization tools on-premises, but many colleges, especially smaller ones, opt for cloud-managed solutions. Together with access to artificial intelligence and machine learning in the cloud, automation drastically cuts down troubleshooting time, often from a few hours to a few minutes. 

Let’s look at three key optimization tools and the benefits they offer.

Boost Visibility and Security by Profiling Network Devices

Cloud-connected profiling tools quickly document the network and everything on it — devices, access points, routers and switches — and the operating systems of each. This makes it easy to determine whether OSes are consistent or need upgrading and whether those upgrades can be automated, among other details.

This visibility also enhances security. In recognizing what kinds of devices are on the network, profiling tools can apply appropriate security policies. For example, when the solution identifies a device as a student MacBook, it will permit only the level of network access approved for students. Profiling also enhances security by identifying devices for which vendor maintenance is expiring and providing alerts when devices show suspicious activity, such as making unusual connections.

Network Sensors Speed Up Troubleshooting and Improve Performance

Cloud-managed sensors help to ensure that wireless networks function the way they’re supposed to and that users enjoy high-quality connectivity. For example, a user might have a signal and see a connection but still be unable to access the internet. 

To fix the problem, a sensor — or super client — connects to the wireless network and pretends to be a client device. Super clients analyze all the data relevant to the wireless connection, from the radio frequency channel the connection uses to neighboring devices on the network. They use that information to identify why the connection isn’t happening and then either fix the problem or alert IT staff via a dashboard that provides visibility into the situation.

Optimize Power Usage, Configurations and Connectivity

Network management platforms help IT teams understand network activity and make it more efficient. For example, these tools can show how much power is being used and how much traffic is on a network, so that power can be reduced when no one is connected.

Switch automation also highlights configuration errors and other issues, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve performance over time. The solution makes the same fixes that an administrator would, but more rapidly and without manual intervention. Network automation also gathers data about the health of WAN gateways and determines the optimal connection for a specific application. 

Five years ago, much of the work associated with network optimization was time-consuming and hands-on. That’s no longer practical, given the growing number of wireless devices in higher education. Automating these tasks delivers better performance and security for IT staff and campus users alike.

Story by Sven Rasmussen, who has a passion for technology and for helping people explore the infinite use cases for wireless networking. Sven is an enterprise networking team lead at CDW, where he helps guide network strategy and enablement for CDW’s network solution architects.