Roundtable: saving on ICT expenses – Rich Nedwich

From SaaS to scalability, how can universities keep a tight rein on their ICT expenses, while still offering students the best digital experience available? Steve Wright quizzes six experts

Rich Nedwich is global director of education at Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS company.

Q. How important – and how feasible – is it for universities to have a fully scalable ICT framework, capable of growing in capacity to suit demand either over time and/or for specific projects?

Step one to creating a ‘smart campus’ infrastructure is to build a connected campus which ties together the people, devices, things and applications anywhere on campus. Scale matters here, for while there may be 10,000 students on campus, they may each carry 3–10 devices, each connected to your campus network. Then, as IoT sensors gain popularity, that could double the number of connected devices – or more.

Q. Can you recommend some useful cost-saving solutions?

A number of cost savings may be possible. One infrastructure can deploy and manage wired, wireless, IoT and mobile simultaneously; citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) may one day replace distributed antenna systems (DAS) and allow a neutral host LTE which deploys like Wi-Fi, and could complement or replace DAS deployments; there may be cost savings from building automation, which conserves labour and utilities like electricity; and the same infrastructure which enables building automation can be leveraged to provide new student services and learning tools, or improve campus safety.

Q. Are there ways in which ICT provision can be monetised (eg offering students different internet capacity/bandwidth at different tariffs)?

Absolutely. In fact, we are in discussions with a few universities on business models for their early adoption of CBRS for private LTE. These entail the university either purchasing their own CBRS LTE network, or licensing the network from a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), then offering voice and data to their students at a subsidised cost.

In other words, the students purchase handsets and low-cost plans from the MVNO, with unlimited data and optimum service everywhere on campus – especially in residence halls. The handsets simply roam to other participating LTE networks outside of campus, and roam seamlessly between. The campus could receive a portion of the plan payments from students to the MVNO, thus helping monetise their network.

Q. How should universities balance budgets while also future-proofing their ICT? Does more durable always mean more expensive?

Great question! One constant during my years serving the higher education market has been that network demand continues to grow faster than expected. IT teams know this and can probably quote you how often their bandwidth needs doubling – every two to three years? Students carry more connected devices, those devices are more capable, students consume and create more video than ever, plus IoT for OT/IT (operational technology/information technology) confluence is all pointing to continued network growth.

The key is to design systems that scale. Which doesn’t mean replacing entry-level with mid-range products, or mid-range with high-end products. Rather, ‘scalable’ means ‘designed to support increased bandwidth over time’. For example, this could translate to stackable switching, or a software licence to enable higher throughput, or a module added in situ to increase throughput. There is no re-architecting, or rip-and-replacing in a scalable approach.

Q. Should ICT systems be updated on a piecemeal basis, or via more radical overhauls every few years?

While it is tempting to think of updating ICT systems all at once, there are several practical considerations which lend themselves to the
piecemeal approach. For example, a university’s department may only update a particular college or school when that college budgets and requests
an overhaul.

What’s more, that project may be limited to one aspect of the client’s ICT (for example switching, Wi-Fi, voice systems, etcetera).

There are system interdependencies – so overhauling your core switching and data centre may come first, followed by edge switching, followed by WLAN, followed by voice, etc.

Then different systems have different life cycles. For example, switches may last 7–10 years, while WLAN upgrades typically occur every 3 to 5 years.

Finally, practically speaking, how large a project can one IT team successfully deploy in a given summer? New construction or remodelling are typical catalysts for updates and trials in a piecemeal fashion.