Colleges and Universities continue to announce plans for their fall semesters. Many are changing the academic calendar by ending or moving the semester online after Thanksgiving. Others, like Stanford, are expanding their terms for the year to make classes less dense. In every scenario, administrators and faculty understand that traditional classroom instruction will be different when the fall semester begins.
To maintain social distancing guidelines and prepare for another coronavirus outbreak, schools are developing hybrid learning models. Institutions like the University of Texas at Austin, the University System of Maryland, and Wichita State University, announced plans to combine in-classroom learning with online and remote learning for the fall semester’s classes. We spoke extensively to our customers in higher education about their plans, and one trend was universal: increasing wifi capacity on campus is essential for remote learning, especially in places like residence halls.
Testing and contact tracing is a critical strategy for all campuses this fall. Students diagnosed with COVID-19, are exhibiting symptoms, or have been identified by a contact tracer to have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, will need to quarantine in a dorm room. The quarantine factor, combined with the switch to more online classes, will place strain on wifi and network capacity in places like residence halls as large numbers of students use high-bandwidth applications like Zoom video calls. IT and network leaders on campus are working quickly to upgrade switch and wifi infrastructure before students return to the campus.
There is an upstream implication on these changes that IT and network leaders need to consider. The utilization of the campus wifi network for remote learning underscores the importance of network infrastructure as a critical utility. More importantly, increased wifi capacity requires increased power-over-ethernet switch capacity. As power density increases in the switches installed in telecommunications rooms, power, cooling, and environmental monitoring upgrades are critical to ensure the uptime and reliability of the network equipment on campus.
Campus IT and network leaders upgrading wifi and switch equipment in telecommunications rooms and edge data centers should consider these five factors associated with power, cooling, and monitoring infrastructure:
UPS Age & Size
Typical batteries in a rack-mounted UPS found in telecommunications rooms (TRs) last approximately three years under normal conditions. For TRs that are not adequately cooled, the lifespan can be even less. When upgrading switch and wifi equipment, evaluate the UPS age and the size of the unit and compare it to the increased power density expected from power-over-ethernet switch upgrades.
UPS Monitoring Capabilities
Many campuses do not have a centralized way of monitoring the status and age of UPS systems in remote telecommunications rooms (TRs). As one network leader told us, they have always “just replaced the UPS systems when they died.” The criticality of network infrastructure in telecommunications rooms on campus requires reliable conditioned power from UPS systems, and network leaders should adopt more proactive monitoring and alerting capabilities from these systems. Monitoring also includes mobile applications which can alert network staff of issues in real-time.
Increasing the power-over-ethernet switch capacity in TRs increases the heat load in those spaces. Because many campus TRs are not standards-based and are limited on size and airflow, monitoring the environmental conditions of the area is essential. There are several IP-based temperature and humidity monitoring solutions that provide monitoring, or many UPS systems have an environmental monitoring built-in.
Many TRs lack proper cooling and airflow. As heat density increases, so does the risk of failure on this critical equipment. Cooling for telecommunications rooms has evolved significantly from analog wall-mounted split systems. Today’s options include innovative rack-mount solutions that direct air upward toward switch infrastructure and have network-based monitoring on performance and status.
Evaluate Design and Plan for Growth
The demand for telecommunications rooms and edge data centers is growing rapidly. Outside of supporting remote learning, the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) and network-connected building systems is placing increased demands on these often-undersized spaces on campus. While there is a need to move quickly to upgrade systems before the fall semester, IT and network leaders should be evaluating the current state of their TRs and determining a path forward for design improvements that facilitate growth.
Campus IT and network leaders are under pressure to deliver infrastructure for the fall semester that can support hybrid learning models. In working quickly to implement upgrades to the network and wifi infrastructure, it is equally important to evaluate and upgrade the critical power, cooling, and monitoring infrastructure that enables continuity of performance of your network equipment.