The COVID-19 pandemic kicked remote learning – and digital transformation – into a whole new dimension. But even before the pandemic, many universities supported both on-campus and off-campus learning.
However, transitioning from a classroom environment to online or virtual education is fraught with obstacles. This is especially true for higher education institutions with limited resources. Students, faculty, and staff expect to be able to access IT systems from anywhere, and they expect their experience to be seamless and secure.
It’s up to colleges and universities to make that expectation a reality. Western Kentucky University (WKU) is an example of a university who was successful in that venture. Let’s take a look at this example and walk through a few steps that will help other institutions meet a similar goal.
Managing a Borderless IT Network
A mid-size university, WKU has nearly 19,000 total students, full-time staff, part-time employees, and just 90 individuals serving on its IT team. The university also has satellite locations and accommodates remote learning.
When COVID-19 hit, WKU was presented with the challenge of monitoring and managing a borderless IT network. As a result, the university’s IT staff’s workload increased immensely.
But when institutions are forced to open their network to remote users, endpoints, and devices, they cannot detect or monitor – how can they keep critical data secure? How can they discover and address performance issues that could threaten the entire campus?
Almost all university CIOs face this challenge, and Western Kentucky University’s Assistant VP for Information Technology, Jeppie Sumpter was no exception.
A Piecemeal Approach to Monitoring Creates Challenges
To monitor the performance of its vast network, WKU relied on a disjointed patchwork of monitoring tools, each focused on a different piece of the hybrid infrastructure. As many IT leaders know, as a university’s digital environment expands – both on-premises and in the cloud – toolset creep can set in.
Moreover, too much monitoring creates headaches for IT teams. Stove-piped dashboards, a sea of alerts, and conflicting data can make it difficult to identify real issues – especially when they occur outside the university’s firewall. These tools are also bandwidth hogs and disrupt digital learning resources.
It all added up to a costly, inefficient method of monitoring any environment.
Observability Provides a Cohesive View of Everything
Rather than rely on traditional piecemeal approaches, Sumpter chose a more cost-effective and holistic end-to-end hybrid IT management strategy that consolidates tools, automates critical tasks, speeds problem resolution, and ensures full end-to-end visibility across its entire network – on campus and off-campus.
The approach chosen by Sumpter emphasizes automation and observability. Through observability, WKU can connect and correlate data from networks, applications, databases, cloud, and hybrid infrastructure for clearer performance insights – without tool sprawl or overburdening IT personnel.
With unified insights into the health and performance of its hybrid IT infrastructure, WKU has moved from reactive to proactive problem-solving, accelerated resolution, and lowered cost of ownership.
Explained Sumpter: “If we were trying to do today with bits and pieces of open source what we are doing with observability, I can’t imagine what the labor resources would entail. And by no means would you have that cohesive view of everything, which is where the real power comes into play.”
WKU is also exploring the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for intelligent troubleshooting and identifying potential problems before they occur. “As we’re getting into AI and baselining concepts and anomaly detection, it’s far beyond just focusing on what is not performing well. Hybrid cloud observability gives us a tremendous amount of assistance to figure out where these problems are happening because it looks deep and wide and gives us that end-to-end view.”
Online Education Requires a Shift in Perspective
Online learning is the fastest growing market in the education industry. Today, most higher education students take at least one class online. As a result, modern university networks extend far beyond the enterprise firewall and into remote environments that IT leaders can’t always control or even discover.
But as the team at Western Kentucky University discovered, with observability, IT pros can achieve the holistic insights they need to keep operations running smoothly and students, staff, and faculty connected – without drowning in a sea of alerts and data.
The author, John Wilson, is Director of SLED and Healthcare, SolarWinds.