How Analytics Elevated A Network Team To Hero Status
Campus Wi-Fi was one of the top subjects for discussion among attendees and presenters in Orlando this week at Educause 2014. How are new and old dorms being provisioned? Should you charge for uber-users? Can you put security devices on the Wi-Fi? Is there value to bandwidth shaping? Do you restrict gaming on the Wi-Fi? These were some of the questions deliberated during and between sessions.
An informal poll at the Wireless Local Area Networking Constituent Group session determined that 30% of schools are in the process of migrating to 802.11ac. This was dramatically different from the moderator’s experience at Interop, where half the group had still not migrated to 802.11n. New dorms are still going up with wired networking, but WiFi is now also a requirement. Campuses are no longer locating access points (APs) just in the hallways, but are putting them either in every room or in some cases, provisioning one for every three rooms. The APs are often strung with two Ethernet cables for redundancy.
Until campuses get more WiFi bandwidth, gaming is often restricted to wired network access. Some schools allow game consoles on their Wi-Fi, but forbid certain console features, such as Netflix and Hulu access. The Campus Computing Project survey found that 25% of schools charge uber-users (defined as someone who consumes over 20 GB/week) extra.
While many of the participants in the session on network management used traffic shaping to control network bandwidth, several IT managers suggested that for a better payback, they should simply put that cost toward increasing network bandwidth. Part of the problem with shaping is accurately classifying all the network traffic. Some users are known to drop into SSL, which also gets around policy enforcement.
It was agreed that video in its many forms is the biggest consumer of network bandwidth. Video from security cameras can be minimized by keeping the cameras in low resolution mode until they detect motion. The Campus Computing Project reported that 79% of schools view lecture capture by either video or audio as an important requirement.
Your IT Staff Can Become Folk Heroes
The presenters in a session called Wireless is More! described how their downtrodden IT staff members were transformed into folk heroes through the creative and engaging use of Wi-Fi analytics. Their project included drawing in eager volunteer labor to create alluring web pages and displays. Here’s how it got started:
A few months ago the network managers were overworked and under-appreciated. As is the case with most network managers, they were noticed only when the network malfunctioned. Enter Rens van der Vorst, head of innovation, who understood that the network department was sitting on a pot of gold. The network data could tell a dramatic story. Students were challenged to collect and exhibit the data. The results were astonishing. Visualizations were shown on all kinds of displays and created a buzz. Was it really this busy on Tuesday morning? Was it this slow on Friday afternoon? The schedules had been telling a different story. The network and IT managers now attract plenty of welcomed respectful attention.
Another group of students began offering new opt-in services. Here are examples:
- A web page where students can see how many hours they are in school during a week.
- A visualization showing how many people are using different parts of the building
- A service that helps students track the exact location of their device in the building
- A presence display that changes your status when you walk in or out a building
- A display of how many of what apps are running where
- A trend display of iPhones versus other devices coming to school on certain days. How do these trends vary among teachers, males vs females?
- Results of very short (four question) student surveys
eduroam at Educause
This year the network at Educause was configured to be part of the eduroam program. All attendees whose home universities are part of eduroam found out how easy it can be to travel to eduroam campuses. They logged onto the Educause network simply by using their home credentials.