When Robert Howard first took over as CIO at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., last year, there was little doubt of his mandate.
"Wireless connectivity and general bandwidth issues were a point of concern among students," Howard says. And that concern was warranted -- the university's bring-your-own-device policy had sparked a 250% increase in the number of devices attaching to the network in the previous 12 months.
Wireless access points, core switches, network pipes and Internet connections all had become choke points, according to Howard. The network simply had to be unclogged because the university used mobile access to attract students, faculty and staff, and because it had plans to shift key applications -- including its email, ERP and learning management systems -- to the cloud to save money and foster business continuity.
The Armstrong team couldn't continue with stopgap measures such as adding new access points whenever the switches and pipes behind them were at capacity. "We had to stop trying to do the math to make the old network work and start at architectural ground zero on a new one. Unless we removed the bottlenecks, [the university's mission] was going to suffer," Howard says.
Howard's realization is not uncommon among IT executives who have watched the demands of mobile devices and cloud computing mercilessly hammer their wireless and wired networks.
In Computerworld's Forecast 2014 survey of 221 IT executives, more than half, 54%, of the respondents said that they anticipate allowing employees to use more consumer technologies at work. And perhaps as a direct result, 53% said that they anticipate needing to add bandwidth to keep pace with the burgeoning use of both mobile devices and cloud-based systems.
"Users are increasingly dependent on network infrastructure -- cloud, mobility and social platforms are touching all areas of the enterprise," says Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and group CEO at Greyhound Research. "If the network becomes the choke point, then it will have an impact on the user experience and IT will be blamed." He adds that IT has to develop metrics around wireless and wired access that must measure any drop in performance and the overall impact on user experience.
Among Armstrong's nearly 7,400 undergraduate and graduate students and almost 600 faculty and staff members, Howard says he has seen a rise in individuals using not just single devices, but combinations of smartphones, tablets, laptops and, in the residence halls, gaming stations.
So for six months, starting during the school year late last year, Howard and his team set about ripping and replacing all elements of the wireless and wired LAN, as well as the pipes between buildings and out to the Internet. He says, only half-jokingly, that because school was in session, it was like being a magician who pulls the tablecloth off of a table without upsetting the dinner plates.
One of the team's first initiatives was to increase the coverage and density of the wireless LAN. The 802.11 a/b/g access points had been clustered so much that they were starting to experience diminishing returns, suffering interference and other scaling issues.