Kent State CIO Discusses the Modern University Network

BrandPost By Chris Nerney
Jun 12, 2017

Why and how Ed Mahon’s IT department must immediately and reliably connect people and systems on the network.

Ed Mahon, CIO, Kent State University

Ed Mahon is responsible for overseeing an IT staff of 175 full-time employees and a network that serves 41,000 students spread across eight campuses, as well as 7,000 faculty members and staff. Mahon also authored the book “Transitioning the Enterprise to the Cloud: A Business Approach,” published in 2015.

Can you talk a bit about the networking challenges specific to a large educational institution such as Kent State?

We have four main networking challenges here at Kent State. The first is to ensure interoperability between multiple vendor products. The second is being able to support the newest customer-grade products that our users attach to the network. Students are averaging four of those devices apiece. A third challenge is keeping up with the refresh cycle on thousands of network devices spread out across all eight campuses. The last challenge is training our staff and keeping their skills up to date.

How does a reliable network help modern students achieve their educational goals?

Students need the university network in order to connect to learning management systems so they can communicate with their instructors. They need to be able to accept their assignments and submit assignments. In addition, all of our administrative needs — from registering 41,000 students several times per year to admissions to financial aid to advising — all run over the network. If the network isn’t up, our core product won’t run.

How does Kent State’s IT department leverage automation and cloud provisioning?

We’ve invested pretty heavily in the cloud space, as well as tools that automate and replicate workflow solutions. Also, we are taking a closer look at our services portfolio —the services we provide to the university community. A key component of our strategy moving forward is to automate or implement self-service applications, not only because we then don’t have to do it manually, but also because it’s what our customers prefer.

Can you talk about your book?

My first book is about how to get your house in order to help you decide what to move to the cloud. My new book is about the vendors that make up the marketplace surrounding giants such as AWS and Microsoft Azure. There’s a host of value-added services for getting help migrating your data and applications to the cloud.

How has your partnership with Juniper helped Kent State fulfill its educational mission?

Juniper is an easy company to communicate with, and not all companies we deal with are. From a technology perspective, Juniper’s virtual hardware platform is going to fit the architectural design requirements for our new spine-and-leaf architecture to help us increase throughput and keep costs under control.

We’ve also been able to join Juniper’s academic alliance, which provides students with hands-on experience about fundamental networking principles. The program produces students more ready for the workforce.

The last component of the partnership is their operating system, JUNOS, which has inherent automation capabilities. It allows us to leverage scripts to automate repetitive tasks associated with the deployment, or change management tasks in the network.