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COVID Challenges Facing Higher Education IT

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Prior to the COVID crisis, higher education institutions were already striving to create effective and flexible short- and long-term strategies for IT infrastructure and data centers.

A common challenge for many institutions is that aging data centers are in academic buildings on campus occupying valuable and expensive space that would be better suited to supporting the institution’s core mission. Increasing user and performance demands are overwhelming the existing IT infrastructure, requiring additional data center systems, power, and space. The capital costs associated with IT facilities are often difficult to estimate in campus master planning, and even more challenging to fund amidst multiple departments with competing academic priorities.

The COVID pandemic has changed IT/network bandwidth requirements dramatically. Face-to-face course delivery is being combined with synchronous and asynchronous digital learning. Most higher education institutions are not prepared for the facilities and IT/network requirements to manage this radical pivot. Some of the challenges generated from a new hybrid course delivery model include:

• Significant increase in data center facility requirements (power, space, density, reliability) to support the delivery of streaming and online courses.

• Networks struggle to support the increased bandwidth and hardware needed to deliver courses and research to thousands of remote users and geographically dispersed network nodes on remote campuses.

• Dedicated media production studios and purpose-built, or renovated, lecture hall/classrooms are needed to support the creation and delivery of quality, interactive courses. Due to the expectations of an institution’s brand level of education, digital courses need to maintain a standard to stay competitive.

There is industry consensus that these changes in the delivery of higher education courses is changed now for the long term. Parallel investment is necessary for the facilities that support face-to-face learning as well as investment in the IT/network infrastructure to support distance learning. Both modes of delivery are critical to provide maximum flexibility to institutions as they strive to meet the needs of students and faculty going forward.

From a planning perspective, there are critical short term, tactical steps that can be taken to prepare for the Fall 2020 semester. These initial projects need to be a part of a longer-term strategic plan so that capital is well invested in a building block approach. This requires a partner with a deep skillset in the following areas:

• Significant IT and Network Architecture and the ability to translate that into the supporting facility infrastructure design and delivery

• Forensic engineering skills to extend existing infrastructure capability to support both tactical and strategic plans

• Architectural design and MEP expertise to thoughtfully integrate new systems into existing facilities and infrastructure

• Financial acumen and program management skills to develop potential options that identify associated time, cost, and risk to make informed decisions understanding capital and operating costs

For additional information please visit our higher education website at:

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