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AI SD-WAN and AI Wi-Fi at the Edge Gives Universities a Competitive Edge


The trend of digital transformation has forever shifted the way work gets done, most notably creating a new emphasis on network speed among enterprises. Between remote/hybrid work environments, and the abundance of innovative devices and applications being adopted, agility and efficiency are now at the forefront of organizations' minds when looking for new network technology.

SD-WANs are a way to manage and optimize a wide area network and are designed to address the changing use of enterprise networks due to the growth of cloud computing and mobile devices. SD-WAN works using software and a centralized control function to intelligently steer traffic across a WAN based on a business's needs.

As such, SD-WANs can allow for many of the same quality of experience and security benefits of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) with data transmission over the public internet rather than preset or dedicated routes.

Building off this, AI-driven SD-WAN is an advanced, service-centric solution that takes software-defined routing to a new level. Ideal for today’s higher education campuses, it delivers a flexible, application-aware network fabric that meets stringent enterprise speed, performance, security, and availability requirements.

“The adoption of AI SD-WAN comes as no surprise, with AI-driven SD-WAN solutions already available on the market, such as Juniper’s Mist solution,” said Steve Boalt at ConnX. “The swift rise is a result of the numerous benefits the technology has to offer universities in today’s high-speed, technology driven world. IT teams at colleges and universities are naturally advanced themselves, as they are charged with supporting many programs, including academics, research, connected classrooms, distance learning, immersive Augmented and Virtual Reality innovations, as well as the basics – keeping students, faculty members, staff and visitors connected securely and continually.”

AI-driven SD-WAN supports a variety of session optimization and intelligent routing features to ensure high performance and service quality for diverse applications and services. A highly responsive Session Smart fabric maintains end-to-end context for sessions and provides automation that enables dynamic workloads.

“Combining AI SD-WAN with AI Wi-Fi on a single orchestration, management and control platform is the ultimate in efficiency, including cost efficiency,” Boalt explained. “Our solution scales across campus, across the community and across multiple site locations. Fine-grained QoS controls let network administrators shape and prioritize traffic to enforce relevant SLAs for all data flows. Application-aware routing intelligently steers traffic based on administratively defined policies and real-time network conditions, automatically selecting the best network path for each application in real time. We have been so fortunate to work with Juniper for years, with access to their market-leading hardware and software, across many different industries.”

On top of the performance benefits, the technology also offers benefits relating to cybersecurity, which is a top priority for every educational institution. AI-driven SD-WAN provides a deny-by-default approach for zero-trust security. A stateful firewall protects applications and infrastructure against data loss and malicious attacks. Key capabilities include L3/L4 DoS/DDoS protection, adaptive payload encryption, Network Address Translation (NAT) and VPN functionality.

While the advantages provided by AI-SD-WAN solutions can be leveraged in any industry or vertical, the education sector’s potential is especially ripe,” Boalt said.

Education is quickly becoming more digital than ever, with 93 percent of teachers using digital tools to help guide instruction at  the primary and secondary levels, and 56 percent believing data and digital tools make them a better teacher. Because of this, agile networks are critical to the learning experience nowadays, making it the perfect place for AI-SD-WAN benefits, serving students, teachers and communities even before students graduate into higher education settings.

“For instance,” Boalt explained, “university campuses can deploy solutions that can halt the troublesome network congestion that arises when a student body full of digital natives consumes bandwidth-intensive services and pushes the campus network to its limits. Students expect campus Wi-Fi to be ever-present and plentiful, viewing their digital devices as essential educational resources while also using those devices to stream movies, news, sports and other entertainment during off hours.”

AI-driven SD-WAN solutions improve bandwidth management, allowing campus network administrators to implement network policy with ease across a complex, segmented network environment. Network administrators also gain enhanced insight into what's using their bandwidth, which helps them make informed decisions about policy and network architecture.

“Perhaps the best news of all is that with the right approach – with super-smart networks, both wide area and edge with intelligent Wi-Fi – the economics get better,” Boalt said. “Because so much is being automated, with the right AI and ML in place, networks operate more on auto-pilot than they have in history. IT teams are relieved and excited to know that with the right connected campus approaches, they have more time to work across all the departments and projects to build for the future, rather than having to spend time manually monitoring and troubleshooting network services.  Cloud-based applications, including all SaaS platforms that support digital learning, distance learning, research, academics and more simply work better on an intelligent and secure network, that is observable from edge-to-edge, and alerts administrators with predictive intelligence, when necessary, while also alerting their Managed Service Provider partners.”

Boalt said that by maintaining a simplified, internet-based network of physical locations with an AI SD-WAN tool, combined with AI Wi-Fi, IT teams have a much easier job keeping everyone connected. Meanwhile, schools and systems themselves save money compared to standard methods of connecting distributed locations.

“Universities are always at the leading edge of modernization and digitalization, as they must be,” Boalt said. “Some of the smartest IT teams we work with work within universities and are not only open to innovation but innovating themselves.  The education sector is tasked with teaching the next generation to thrive in the digital age. While cloud-based tools can certainly help achieve this goal, there's little question they can bring challenges all their own, particularly where bandwidth requirements are involved. For schools who wish to offer unique and extraordinary learning experiences, AI SD-WAN solutions and secure, powerful AI Wi-Fi are pillars of digital education and digital life.”

ConnX and Juniper are co-hosting a webinar on the benefits of AI SD-WAN and AI Wi-Fi on August 3. You can register for the webinar here.

Edited by Erik Linask
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