One of observations we've made so far through our site visits is that many TCUs rely on vendors who often do not serve the best interests of their client TCU. In addition, vendors often lack technical skills which lead them to make poor recommendations and implementations. We've seen several examples of vendor- installed systems that created technical and operational issues, including
- Poor performance and significant gaps in coverage of vendor-installed and supported wireless systems.
- Poorly configured campus network architectures with improper use of VLANs and subnet segmentation.
- Systems that were not functional and when they were, provided very little benefit to the college. For example, one college had a non-operational Cisco UCS system that was never fully installed and was improperly configured.
Every TCU that we visited had some level of campus networking issues (e.g. network design, improper choices on fiber optic cabling, wireless coverage and performance issues, lack of network monitoring software). These issues were sometime more significant than could be accurately analyzed or characterized during a single day site visit. While general observations and recommendations based on these issue are made, a more rigorous examination of the colleges’ infrastructure would be needed to make specific recommendations for fixes, improvements, and upgrades.
The need on the part of TCUs could potentially be addressed through an initiative that provides support to institutions and organizations that are in a position to offer TCUs deeper technical support. Existing collaborations between TCUs and nearby R1 institutions could be expanded, given the availability of funding to defray costs, to include technical support by qualified engineers and technicians on staff at partnering institutions. Regional research and education network providers could also serve a similar support role to TCUs within their service area.
This concept was the basis for an “enhanced site visit” conducted in partnership with the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) based at the University of Oregon. Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, AZ received the enhanced visit, the goals of which were to both conduct a relatively comprehensive review of the CI gaps at a TCU, and to test the idea that provision of enhanced technical support by a educational institution partner is a viable strategy. In this pilot activity, NSRC provided the personnel and AIHEC funded the travel of two NSRC personnel who spent two and a half days days investigating TOCC’s networking and general CI issues. It's too early to assess the impact of this pilot activity on TOCC’s campus technology; however, the the level of engagement of the part of the college seems to indicate that this model has great promise as an effective strategy for accelerating TCU CI development.
What are your thoughts about this idea? Would an enhanced site visit be of value to your college? Should we pursue the idea of making enhanced site vists available to more TCUs?