It seems today that all discussions about networking include reference to the ubiquitous cloud. A Network World article cleverly avoids the use of the term but underscores current and future bandwidth requirements as they relate to the online instruction and collaboration tools emerging across campuses the world over. By next year, the state of Maine will have more Web-enabled devices available for students than it has students, and a State Educational Technology Directors Association report claims that Schools in the U.S. will need 100Mbps per 1,000 students and staff by 2014.
As CIOs of higher education institutions, like their brethren in other organizations, grapple with the meaning and impact of leveraging cloud applications there are implications and trade-offs they need to consider. Past experience dictates that throwing bandwidth at such problems, while providing immediate gratification, might not be the panacea it appears to be. Additionally, tighter budgets demand that the supporting hardware and infrastructure costs get a hard look as well.
One thing is for sure, the thirst for bandwidth is elastic. If you build it, applications will find a way to come. Don’t believe it? Look at the trend relative to Netflix since it burst onto the scene. No matter where you measure, Netflix accounts for a hefty share of the bits delivered worldwide. It drives networks to capacity and adding capacity simply attracts more Netflix traffic. While entertaining, and therefore high on consumers’ viewing list, competition with more “mission-critical” applications is a fait accompli.
The management and prioritization of core cloud-based applications, critical to a school’s mission, must be enabled to advance the learner’s experience. Thought and deliberation, as well as a coherent traffic management plan, will deliver the desired result. Additionally, up to the minute quality-of-experience metrics and related historical views will become the measure of success. Lastly, fairness counts, but it needs to be enforced.
As one college Network Manager recently told us, “As we move applications to the cloud, we have to ensure that all students have prioritized and measurable access. We can’t have students impacting these services with entertainment and gaming applications. We plan to use our Procera gear to ensure that.”