Networking

3 Keys to University Network Policies

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Tightening the reigns on your app and internet policies doesn’t mean restricting freedom. It's the only way to protect your institution's valuable research data and to preserve the privacy of staff and students.

Network security isn't only a concern for businesses and government. Recent US research from BitSight revealed that the education sector is a prime target for hackers, with nearly four times as much ransomware in its systems as the healthcare sector, and nearly nine times as much as the financial sector.

Universities and colleges make tempting targets not only because of the unique data they keep, but because misguided concerns over academic openness mean that so many still leave their gates wide open.

It’s time to take control

In a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) environment, you can’t control every potentially infected laptop and device being used around your campus. But you can, and should, control what they access through your servers.

In an academic environment, internet technology decision-makers (ITDMs) can find themselves facing resistance but it’s your responsibility to convince academics and administrators alike that beefing up security won’t compromise their ideals.

From financial information to research data, a university has many of the same assets as a business. So when it comes to security, you need to treat it like one. It’s also your responsibility to protect the personal information and intellectual property of staff and students, who will all be at risk if you don’t have the appropriate safeguards in place.

How to justify these restrictions

Website blocking is routinely justified in the US, Australia and many other countries to prevent malware, investment fraud, copyright infringement, terrorism and other malicious activity, so there’s plenty of precedent.

If you do find yourself needing to justify controlling access to suspicious websites, app downloads or file sharing through torrents or cloud lockers, the risk of malware should be reason enough.

Blocking or limiting the bandwidth available for file sharing will also reduce the illegal consumption of copyrighted materials on campus, which shows that your university respects the creators’ intellectual property.

Then there’s the practicality of preserving bandwidth. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing consumes a lot of network resources, which slows things down for legitimate users. The same applies to streaming services and that other controversial culprit – pornography.

While universities don’t have the same excuse as high schools and public network – that they’re protecting children from seeing inappropriate content – the risk of illegal materials and viruses appearing on these sites is another justification for blocking access altogether.

How to block undesired websites

When choosing the method for restricting access to websites, you need to consider your department’s resources and budget.

Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking – the cheapest method, but also the least effective as IP addresses can be quickly changed.

Domain Name Server (DNS) blocking – permanently blocks access to undesired sites at only slightly more expense, though easily circumvented.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL) blocking – more precise, but requires the greatest investment of time and money to configure correctly.

When you’re surrounded by the best and brightest, there are always going to be people who can circumvent the restrictions you put in place by using a virtual private network (VPN) or more advanced techniques. The important thing is that you’re significantly reducing the risks and encouraging students to break bad habits.

With quality filters in place, you can make sure that legitimate websites and apps won’t be blocked by mistake, while protecting students, faculties and your institution alike.

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How To Improve Your Network Without Major Investment

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Simple ways to Improve your Network Without Major Investment

Who knows how many more devices will be in the Christmas haul for students, staff, and faculty? You can certainly be sure most of those new devices will appear on campus at some point or another. However, you are not likely to find an unexpected budget for a major network overhaul in your stocking. But if there is something left in the budget, you might be able to make a big difference with some small improvements.

1. Take another look at what you are made of

When planning a network by looking at blueprints and floor plans, the basic question of building materials is easily overlooked. Those materials can make a big difference to the reach of a WiFi network, however.

Dense building materials like brick or rock could smother your wireless signal. Materials that hold water can also sabotage signal strength. Not taking into account a bathroom in the way can play havoc with signal strength.

If there are dead spots in your network, double check whether you have taken building materials properly into account. Buying a more advanced access point for a place where the signal is weak will not cost the earth. And it could give you a fast, reliable connection where you did not have one before.

2. Follow the crowd

WiFi users will mob in the places with the best signals. The problem is that those mobs then bring down the very network speeds they were chasing.

You might see real benefits in a small investment in access points in the locations where users would gather if only the WiFi were better. The right access point in the right place could give you double benefit:

  1. You have good WiFi where there were only complaints before

  2. You have even better WiFi where users used to congregate in greater numbers

3. Invest in Analytics

It might be time to invest in an analytics tool. If you already have good analytics tools, it might be time to fund a project to study the data. There are questions that you should know the answers to in order to make the most of your current WiFi:

  • Who is using your network

  • When they are using it

  • Where they are using it

  • What they are using it for

The answer to getting more from your network is not always going to be to buy more bandwidth, for instance. It might be a question of allocating what you already have better—perhaps spreading it further and more efficiently as with the suggestions here. It might also be a question of defining better rules for which data has priority.

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Is Your Network Ready For Student Demands?

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The Future Of Education Requires WiFi


Once upon a time, handheld calculators were the height of student technology. Now, students are coming to school with multiple devices, each trying hard to connect to the Internet through your campus network. Is your network up to the challenge?

Some student devices place a heavy load on the campus network when they're used to watch video content that makes up part of a classroom curriculum. Other devices won't make constant demands of the network but will be part of the steady drip of bandwidth that adds up to a significant overall network load.

Network Provision Affects Education Outcomes

Within the classroom walls, there are a couple basic network divisions that student devices can use. How you provision and manage them significantly impacts how successfully:

  • Teachers integrate student devices into the learning process
  • Each device can function as a network endpoint

1. The Cabled vs Cellular Networks

The cabled network and cellular data network are, in many ways, at opposite ends of the classroom use spectrum.

Cable connections will almost always go to devices owned and tightly controlled by the school. That use is so thoroughly presumed that the cabled network often skips one or more authentication steps required on the wireless network.

The cellular data network, on the other hand, will be used almost exclusively by student mobile devices. School network architects can use those facts to balance their network traffic to help all users have a better experience.

Keeping as many school-owned systems as possible on the cabled network means that the impact from student devices is minimized.

Shifting student devices to the cellular data network rather than the campus WiFi also reduces their impact on other users.

Network managers must decide whether that reduction is enough to justify allowing classroom material to be transmitted over the cellular network and, if so, whether the school should explore installing femtocell transceivers to encourage students to keep their devices off the school's WiFi network.

2. 2.4GHz vs 5GHz Protocols

A growing number of wireless mobile devices can take advantage of 5GHz WiFi protocols that are both faster and able to gracefully support more users. Pushing school-owned wireless devices to 5GHz channels makes the most of the spectrum, leaving the slower 2.4GHz band for older student-owned devices.

Student-owned devices are complicating life for school network managers, but a Current Technologies designed network plan for balancing traffic across all available network technologies can keep the student body’s mobile fleet from wreaking havoc on your computers. Our team specializes in taking your current system and making the most out of it or building you a totally new system to your exact specifications.

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Making the Internet of Things work for you

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Building Your Industrial IoT


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad term that tends to get wider when marketing departments use it. In general, though, it means machines talking to machines with a back-end system gathering the data from those conversations for analysis and control purposes. In the business and manufacturing worlds, IoT techniques and technologies can be the key to greater productivity and efficiency.

With the IoT, we’re headed to a world where things aren’t liable to break catastrophically- or at least we’ll have a hell of a heads up
— Scott Weiss, Venture Capitalist- Andreessen Horowitz

How to get it right

Getting it right starts with figuring out what you want from your Industrial IoT.

  • Will you be taking data from sensors so that your back-end analysis will let you begin predictive maintenance? For some companies, that alone will justify the project.
  • Will you be using the data, again coupled with your back-end servers, for command and control of equipment based on real-time data?
  • Are you going to set up a system in which your equipment is talking to itself, adjusting operations on it's own far quicker than any human operator could?

The key to a useful internet of things is knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. The answer to these basic questions will inform decisions on everything from network infrastructure to the servers required for analysis.

Servers and communications

Regardless of your other decisions, you're going to need communications and servers for analysis. Both come together at the rack where your analytics are housed.

On the communications side, this means a network that is designed for high connection and transaction counts rather than for the largest possible raw bandwidth. IoT applications tend to involve incredibly high numbers of very small transactions. It's easy to think that, for example, all gigabit Ethernet or 10 gigabit Ethernet network cards are created equal, but that is far from the case. Ask your vendor about the transaction and connection capabilities of the cards you intend to put into your IoT infrastructure.

Twin servers?

When you begin to put together the specifications for an IoT infrastructure, you'll want to look at the possibilities of twin servers for your IoT. One of the servers will be designated to receive and send IoT traffic, while the other will be the heart of the analytics process. The difference between them? Transactions.

The Industrial IoT is a classic online transaction processing (OLTP) application. The qualities needed in the storage design and overall application infrastructure are almost identical to those that would be used in a traditional centralized point-of-sale or e-commerce system. The key to acceptable performance is write speed, the ability to catch a fire-hose stream of data and write it to storage without pause or bobble.

Continuing to look back at classic processing, the analysis system is a traditional online analytical processing (OLAP) system in which data reads will be exceptional, delivering data at near-streaming speeds for accurate, timely analysis.

The Industrial IoT paired with the knowledge and experience of Current Technologies can put a mid-sized business onto a level playing field with much larger competitors. Build your infrastructure properly, and it will maximize the benefits while keeping the additional load on your IT group well in hand.

We can make the IoT work for you

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