This sponsored blog post was originally published at at HelpSystems.com

With summer almost here, it’s time for network infrastructure teams at K–12 school districts and higher education institutions to take stock of their infrastructure and think about what IT initiatives and trends will be impacting them through the next school year and beyond.

Server virtualization drives decision-making

Believe it or not, network managers have been telling EMA for years that server virtualization continues to be the IT initiative that impacts them the most. More than anything else, server virtualization drives their decision-making. It creates a new layer of infrastructure complexity that network operations must contend with when trying to maintain end-to-end visibility of dependencies across physical and virtual infrastructure. Apparently there are still plenty of bare-metal workloads out there that enterprises are trying to virtualize.

 

Cloud transformation demands dynamic networks

Of course, once an IT organization has virtualized server infrastructure, it will start looking at internal cloud transformation. This is one of the other leading IT initiatives impacting network infrastructure teams this year. IT organizations are moving toward becoming internal service providers with increasingly software-defined infrastructure up and down the technology stack. The workloads that were virtualized during the server virtualization wave are now more mobile and dynamic. The network needs not only to account for these workloads but also to be dynamic enough to respond to rapidly changing needs for connectivity and network services for cloud workloads.

Software-defined networking helps segment networks

Speaking of software-defined, EMA has found that software-defined networking (SDN) is another initiative having a big impact on network infrastructure teams, in both the data center and the WAN. Many networking teams in the education sector will already be familiar with SDN since colleges and universities have been hotbeds of SDN innovation for several years now. Many universities have deployed SDN to virtually segment networks for student access, administration, and research. Chances are you will be asked to evaluate or implement SDN in the coming year if you haven’t already.

Wireless networks continues to grow

And chances are my mention of student access in the previous paragraph reminded you that your wireless LAN desperately needs an upgrade or expansion. This year we are seeing more commercially available 802.11ac Wave 2 infrastructure options from leading Wi-Fi vendors. Many network infrastructure teams are working on Wave 2 projects, as the technology is finally delivering on Wi-Fi’s promise of gigabit speeds. The massive use of wireless technology on college campuses will only expand as your users connect more and more devices to educational networks.

The Internet of Things ushers in new devices to manage and monitor

While on the subject of expanding endpoint devices, I should mention one last technology initiative that network managers are contending with this year. The Internet of Things (IoT) is dominating the technology world. Almost every network infrastructure team is involved in some kind of IoT initiative. This may be hard to believe, given that the term “IoT” was only coined a couple years ago. But IoT has been around for much longer than that.

Industrial companies started connecting their supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems to IP networks more than a decade ago. “Smart grids” and “smart cities” became popular terms not long after that. Hospitals have been networking thousands of medical scanners, monitors, drug pumps, and other “things” since long before technology executives started using tradeshow keynotes to herald the arrival of IoT.

IoT is here now, and network infrastructure teams are often expected to take the lead in planning and implementing IoT projects. After all, it’s the network that connects all these things. In addition to figuring out what kind of connectivity these things need, you might be asked to secure, manage, and monitor many of these new devices. And many of these devices use nonstandard, proprietary protocols that you may have not encountered before. Don’t be surprised if your applied physics or biochemistry departments ask you to network, manage, and monitor their lab equipment. It sounds like you have a lot of work to do. Good luck.