Networking

Why We Outsourced Our ResNet

When SUNY Buffalo State's residential network infrastructure couldn't keep up with student demand, the institution looked to a ResNet provider for a much-needed overhaul.

SUNY Buffalo State

As 2,900 students poured into the residential halls at SUNY Buffalo State last fall, there was an undeniable air of excitement amongst team members of our housing department. For the first time, we were unveiling a highly advanced residential network (ResNet) with comprehensive WiFi connectivity for all student rooms and common areas and around-the-clock support.

During move-in week, our halls buzzed with student chatter and excitement, and to our delight, the student network hummed with efficiency and unprecedented speed. Our administrators were pleased that we did not receive the same barrage of complaints that we have become accustomed to in the past (specifically Internet connectivity).

Indeed, Buffalo State's number one student complaint was once minimal wireless connectivity and slow Internet speeds in the residential halls (according to the Association of College and University Housing Officers - International's 2013 educational benchmark survey) — a recurring complaint in preceding years as well.

With more than 130 percent growth in residence hall occupancies over two decades, our existing infrastructure simply couldn't keep up with the rising number of residents and devices. Right off the bat, we couldn't support 100 percent of the ports available. Only two of 11 residential halls featured wireless connectivity in the common areas. The residence halls shared bandwidth with the administrative side of campus and bandwidth was portioned between both entities during business hours. In the evening, residents accessing the Internet from their rooms choked the ResNet, and those wanting technical support beyond business hours were disappointed because of our 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekday support hours.

Our housing department, along with other senior administrators from various departments, realized that staying the course was impacting Buffalo State's competitiveness as a residence option and as an educational institution — specifically in terms of recruitment and retention. By the spring of 2013, we decided to overhaul our ResNet and provide a scalable solution that will truly meet our current and future student resident needs. Here's a recount of our process, how we found value in outsourcing and the lessons learned along the way.

A Strategic Commitment to Quality Internet Access

Our school has embarked on several strategic initiatives to bolster recruitment, retention and graduation. The ResNet has become a key asset in helping Buffalo State and its residential program stay competitive — as well as provide access to educational resources. An outsourced, future-proofed network would also support student interaction, a key component in the college's new housing master plan. As a campus, we agreed that Buffalo State needed a higher quality residential network, quickly.

Collaboration Is Key

Collaborating with stakeholders throughout the school helped kick-start the project and move the decision-making process along swiftly. Key campus decision-makers were consulted: the vice president for student affairs; vice president for finance and management; associate vice president for campus life; associate vice president for computing and technology services; director of budget; chief information officer; and the director of networking and operational services. Collectively, the team agreed that the program needed to be run 24/7. Our goal was to have the new ResNet live by the Fall of 2014, which meant that a critical consideration would be the ability to install the new ResNet quickly and with minimal student disruption.

Opting to Outsource

The chief information officer, the housing and auxiliary services group, business & finance department and the computing services group put together an analysis to evaluate what it would take to run the program in-house and compared the results with outsourcing the ResNet. Doing everything in-house would mean adding more staff, as well as increasing bandwidth capacity, both of which would impact the budget significantly. We also looked at ResNet providers, and turned to our peers at other SUNY campuses for feedback.

We ultimately chose ResNet provider Apogee because the company met all the criteria and could offer a better service 24/7 than we could in-house. Apogee users at other SUNY campuses told us that "once this service was outsourced, we never wanted this to come back in." After the reference checks, we took the plunge and acted in the best interest of retention and recruitment goals.

As a result of our decision to outsource, we were able to deliver a new and comprehensive student network weeks in advance of our move-in date. Bandwidth has increased dramatically and students are enjoying 100 percent wireless connectivity in their rooms and common areas. Outsourcing has also lifted the burden of monitoring RIAA/DMCA violations for a multitude of staff, who are now free to focus their efforts elsewhere. The ability to offer 24/7 support is a major plus.

Students live and die by their computers and devices. Housing is major part of a student's decision process in choosing a school, and reliable Internet connectivity is now an expectation. The true value of this outsourcing partnership is that as technology and student demands dramatically increase, we are confident that Buffalo State will stay highly competitive.

Lessons Learned

  • Start early. Don't wait to start talking about it. As this decision touches many different areas of the campus community, you'll need to start discussions as soon as possible. With that in mind, you will need to budget time for a number of tasks, such as a facility review and to solicit feedback. In our case, we had a methodical plan that was successful at aligning all of these campus groups in a short time span in order to get this done.
  • Let them tell you what they need. Make sure to communicate with not only the administration but also students and student government — they'll tell you what's wrong. The team consulted with hall governance and building hall associates, and left the lines of communication open throughout the process. In the end, students want tangible results and they will be understanding as long as they can see them. While we had to raise fees, students fully supported the decision to outsource to a ResNet provider and improve services.
  • Think from a construction standpoint. Campuses need to work closely with their Facilities Planning and Physical Plant department to determine any electrical power concerns. Schools also need to be cognizant of asbestos concerns and the potential need to conduct an asbestos abatement project well ahead of any wiring installations. During the install, we held weekly conference calls with the Apogee implementation team and reviewed the installation and distribution methods well ahead of time. In this way, concerns were addressed without the need to seek answers or work needs from other campus entities.
  • New equipment does not equal a new solution. It's easy to think that network issues can be resolved by buying a truckload of brand new network equipment. In order to truly move forward, we needed a comprehensive solution that would completely offload the responsibility of the network and wouldn't become obsolete in 24 to 36 months.
  • Reach beyond Housing. We brought Finance and other departments into the process and developed a collective group so that the whole school could push this initiative as a team. We would advise other schools develop a partnership with other departments, meet regularly and toss titles aside as you work toward your goal of better connectivity.
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