Three top trends in higher ed IT for 2021 and beyond

Deploying infrastructure to support widespread, secure remote learning during the pandemic was a no-brainer. But as the world looks toward returning to normal, colleges and universities are at a crossroads.

Most institutions are either focusing on restoring their environments to pre-pandemic conditions at the lowest cost possible, evolving their IT strategy to serve a blend of online and in-person learning, or digitally transforming their entire institution.

Regardless, you’ll have to contend with the same issues: connecting to multiple endpoints safely, managing traffic securely at capacity, and delivering a consistent, reliable user experience.

The Challenge: Multiple endpoints, unknown to your network, being used by students and faculty to attend online classes.

Educational institutions saw larger growth in remote connections than any other industry. Protecting all these new endpoints is difficult and expensive, but necessary: higher ed blocks more access requests than any other sector.

With the adoption of cloud services and hybrid networks, visibility was already a concern. With remote learning, the need to see who’s using the network – and what they’re doing – is even greater.

Visibility can only work if there’s one unified view through a single console. Clicking between screens and trying to normalise data from different vendors doesn’t work in a cloud or hybrid environment, particularly when the user base consists of thousands of remote connections.

Higher ed IT systems need to filter content to and from remote users, inspect HTTP and HTTPS traffic, apply granular policies on blocked and allowed categories, manage blacklists/whitelists, and see applications accessing the network and their vulnerabilities.

IT leaders must also acknowledge that the ability to access a network isn’t proof of trustworthiness. Not all users act responsibly, and weak/stolen credentials can easily be used to penetrate a network.

Zero Trust is based on the least-privilege concept, where a user can access the resources they need to perform their task and nothing more. User and device behaviour is continuously monitored for abnormal activity, and the connection is ended if behaviour meets specific criteria. The attack surface is reduced through micro-segmentation, which defines internal trust boundaries and granularly controls traffic flow to secure the infrastructure and prevent threats from spreading laterally.

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The Challenge: Managing traffic on the network at any capacity without compromising security and end-user experience.

The ability to scale is now more critical than ever, and the entire architecture needs to be evaluated through that lens. IT administrators must manage more and more endpoints hitting their networks, creating opportunities for breaches.

Most institutions are either actively adopting cloud infrastructure or planning to do so in the near future. Regardless, security needs to scale with the network, support hundreds of thousands of connections, and deliver real-time breach prevention and deep-packet inspection across the entire ecosystem. In addition, it must stop phishing attacks and ransomware; scan embedded URLs; and protect Office 365 and G Suite.

Budgets will be slashed this year, but traffic capacity is where the rubber meets the road: if students and faculty can’t access their online classrooms, there is no business model.

But scalable security can reduce expense. When cloud, SaaS and network resources are managed through a centralised console, costs are lowered, and productivity is boosted. Plus, the ability to quickly expose real-time traffic trends and suspicious behaviour helps keep the network running at peak levels using existing resources.

The Challenge: Providing an end-user experience that drives revenue by driving better approval ratings.

As higher ed enrolment declines, academic leaders have begun looking to the enterprise world for guidance.

In the commercial world, data is everything. Enterprises feed behavioural data into AI systems that analyse patterns and return consumable results used to make decisions.

Some higher ed institutions are doing the same with student success analytics. For instance, the University of Arizona uses data to learn about online resource usage to improve user experience and inform cybersecurity decisions.

It’s up to IT leaders to help decision-makers understand that user experience isn’t just design, but the speed with which content is displayed and the confidence level users have in their data security.

Technology leaders need to squeeze the most value from every penny spent on securing campuses. Total cost of ownership must be scalable through pay-as-you-go or bring-your-own-license arrangements – conventional software agreements aren’t favourable to institutions with rapidly changing needs.

The alternative? Solutions that use AI to deliver a high level of automation. Repetitive manual tasks are too time-consuming: even if the department retains headcount, employee expertise is better spent on supporting users and implementing improvements.

SonicWall offers a flexible solution that expands and contracts with the campus. Students, faculty and staff can securely access school resources from anywhere, and network traffic won’t be impeded no matter how many connections you’re supporting.

Find out more about SonicWall solutions for higher education

Watch our webinar on-demand. Presented by University Business, Education Technology and SonicWall, we recently took a closer look at current cybersecurity trends in education:

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