Remote access via virtual private networks (VPNs) is a major technological advancement reshaping organizations worldwide, including educational institutions. The IT solutions of all educational institutions, ranging from primary schools to universities, face unique challenges in order to provide a more advanced learning and working environment, while also maintaining security requirements and optimal IT efficiency.
Common Applications in an Educational Institution:
Educational institutions require numerous IT applications, which are managed by the network support teams. These include:
- email accounts for students and faculty
- secure email access
- intranet set up and functionality
- web and mail services
- storage and management of sensitive data
- online examination management and results posting
- secure intra-departmental data transfer
- secure remote access to server rooms and on-site data centers; and
- maximum security levels preventing hacker attacks, and enabling secure login and sensitive information transfer
In addition to providing a secure mechanism to access the above list of necessary applications, IT administrators are also responsible for minimizing network downtime, monitoring uptime, and keeping service costs under control. In order to provide this, remote access technology is the optimal solution.
Reasons for Using Remote Access:
1. 24/7 Accessibility
Remote access through VPNs provides cost-effective 24/7 data access to students and staff from anywhere.
2. Reduced Security Concerns
VPN technology allows secure remote access to educational resources and individual desktops for faculty and staff members through encrypted connections, via Web Secure Proxy and secured authentication methods.
Innovative remote access solutions implement a security strategy that also includes firewalls, anti-virus software and intrusion prevention services to protect vital and sensitive information within the network.
3. Reduced Investment in Technology Infrastructure
Due to the potential for mechanical failure, hardware solutions are prone to break downs. Initial costs and costs to repair cause hardware solutions to be significantly less viable than pure software solutions. Additionally, software solutions enable IT administrators to resolve several problems remotely, thereby further reducing costs and resource use. The implementation of a software based solution has the additional benefit of optimizing existing server resources, which reduces total cost of ownership.
4. High Availability
Access from the client requires a Web browser only. This allows for specialty software applications to be made more readily and widely available to the students, staff and faculty. This high application availability allows for e-learning programs and superior online delivery methods after school hours.
The total enrollment in public and private postsecondary institutions increased 47% between 1995 and 2010, and a further increase of 15% is expected between fall 2010 and fall 2020. The growth in the number of students attending educational institutions puts network administrators under pressure to increase the amount of PCs and network facilities in order to accommodate their staff and students. An increase in terminals necessitates an increase in the number of servers; since these servers are the pillar of the institution’s Network, it is important that they be consistently reliable, as network downtime implies an interruption of essential services.
High-quality VPNs allow for workload balancing of cluster servers, meaning the division of a computer/network’s workload between two or more computers/servers. This process facilitates the system’s optimum performance, which results in faster data access. Load balancing also prevents failover, which occurs when a user cannot access a database in a cluster - either because they cannot access the database itself or they cannot access the database server.
A VPN is highly scalable and supports many different platforms. VPN technology provides remote access via any device, such as desktop computers, notebooks and tablets, and all operating systems are supported, including Microsoft Windows, Apple MAC OS X, and Linux. In addition, this technology allows educational institutions to purchase resources as needed. If the institution experiences significant growth, it can easily increase the capacity of their remote access solutions. Conversely, if their needs decrease, they can scale down.
6. Single Sign-On
Single sign-on is a capability that enables secure authentication across many services with only one password. It allows users to be logged into multiple services once the user has signed in to one. Single sign-on streamlines the authentication process for the user, while simultaneously protecting the institution’s resources.
Remote access technology has proven beneficial to several organizations as it optimizes resources, decreases administrative costs, increases productivity and enhances the learning process. Today, remote access technology for educational institutions is considered an essential part of a comprehensive IT security infrastructure.
Author: Hazel Farrugia
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