Digital campuses are becoming the new normal for universities, and for good reason. Universities compete globally for students and faculty, and those that adapt quickly to the digital world have a big advantage.
Students and faculty have very high digital expectations. Students are more techsavvy and better connected than any generation before them. They bring a bevy of mobile devices to campus and expect Internet access to be ubiquitous. If their digital expectations are not met, they make it known on social media.
Faculty members have discerning digital tastes too. They scrutinize and evaluate a university’s technology before accepting a position. Their teaching methods, research and tenure depend on it.
Many universities are implementing digital strategies to recruit students and faculty, and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) is one of them. NEIU’s strategies include an esports incubator, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
The university’s challenge was modernizing its IT infrastructure to create a flexible environment conducive to these technologies and future ones. Sam Kann, CIO at NEIU, said that meant getting out of the data center business.
“We’re a university, not a data center,” Kann said. “We need to focus on transforming technology and delivering advanced IT services, leaving the data center business to the experts.”
For NEIU, the experts are at ServerCentral, a managed IT solutions provider. ServerCentral helped NEIU modernize its IT infrastructure from the ground up— literally. The solution includes dark fiber in the ground and a hybrid cloud above.
There was one more challenge. NEIU’s on-premise IT infrastructure (100 virtual machines and 90 TBs) had to be migrated to ServerCentral’s cloud within 30 days. That’s when the university’s backup solution expired, and Kann didn’t want to renew it.
“It was a backup solution, not an availability solution,” he said. “We were about to lay the foundation for esports, AI and machine learning. Why bother unless these technologies are always available?”
ServerCentral gave NEIU a modern, hybrid-cloud infrastructure featuring Veeam Backup & Replication so new and emerging technologies are always available.
“Veeam and ServerCentral enabled us to move forward with our digital strategies, giving us the tech credibility to attract the best and brightest students and faculty,” Kann said.
One of NEIU’s digital strategies is creating an esports incubator to offer students more than a just a cool place to play video games. Most commonly, esports involves multiplayer video game competitions that can draw millions of viewers worldwide. NEIU is turning gaming into a learning experience.
By partnering with software companies, NEIU will offer experiential learning through gaming technology. Students will have the opportunity to create their own games and learn how to commercialize their ideas with help from students in the business school.
“Esports is more than gaming; it’s also about business,” Kann said. “Students will be marketable when they graduate, and some may get gaming patents before they leave.”
NEIU is also partnering with universities, including Oral Roberts University, so students can tap into AI and machine learning. They’ll develop interactive kiosks that sync with smart devices to provide self-service technology. The kiosks could act as printing stations for class assignments or navigational assistants for someone trying to find a building on campus. Kiosks can also automate the check-in process at the student health center and financial aid office.
“Our sole focus is student experience and convenience,” Kann said. “With these technologies, our university will stand tall among others, putting us in an excellent position to increase enrollment and retention.”
Enrollment and retention aren’t the only things that will increase. As NEIU continues its digital transformation, ServerCentral’s cloud will host additional technologies, and Veeam will make sure they’re always accessible.
“Our data will grow exponentially,” Kann said. “Keeping that data available is critical to our existence and our advancement.”
NEIU’s new hybrid cloud saves time and money too. Migrating the university’s IT infrastructure was completed within the tight 30-day window with Veeam replication, and ServerCentral met the university’s fixed budgetary requirements by converting several capital expenses (CapEx) into operating expenses (OpEx). NEIU is paying 48 percent less each month in IT costs.
“We have the tech credibility required to attract and retain students and faculty — and for nearly half of what we spent when we managed our own data center,” Kann said.
Northeastern Illinois University is a fully accredited public institution serving the Chicago metropolitan area. Founded in 1867 as a training school for teachers, today the university offers 8,100 students more than 70 undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts, sciences, education and business. The university employs 1,200 staff.
To compete for the best and brightest students and faculty, universities are modernizing their IT infrastructures to stay digitally relevant. Universities that don’t stay digitally relevant can’t compete at the same level.