At Gonzaga University, it doesn’t take a computer scientist to create your own smart home.
This year, GU’s Information Technology Services, located in the basement of Foley Library, is dedicated to giving its all to make students feel at home in the residence halls by supporting advanced technologies designed for easy living. In the last two years, IT has been met with new Internet of Things (IoT) devices that students want in their dorm rooms and on-campus apartments.
IoT refers to electronics that support the expansion of internet connection beyond the usual standard devices like computers, laptops and smartphones. Eric Moss, assistant director of infrastructure operations, explained IoT as “machine to machine communication.”
Commonly known IoT devices are Google Home, Echo Dot, Alexa and August Doorbell Cam.
“We’re trying to listen to the students’ needs and what the students want,” said Darren Owsley, the chief technology officer. “They expect a home, and when they get to Gonzaga, we want them to feel like it is home here.”
For students who want to hook up an IoT device in their dorm or on-campus apartment, registering and connecting their device looks different than connecting a laptop or phone to campus Wi-Fi.
“Those devices don’t support enterprise security,” Moss said, referring to the GU Community Wi-Fi network. “They’re built for home use, so they may not have full enterprise security support. So, they have to go into a segmented portion of our network.”
About two years ago, IT Services created a network supported by IoT devices and as of Monday, GU’s campus had 644 IoT devices registered on the new IoT network.
Students are invited to go to the NextGen Tech Bar or IT Services for assistance hooking up an IoT device on campus.
“This started out a year and a half to two years ago because we knew after the Christmas break, all these new devices would come to campus,” Owsley said. “So, we were trying to get ahead of that and make sure students had a network where students could register their devices and utilize them.”
According to Moss, usage has only increased in recent years.
“Last year, it started as a grassroots effort by some students who were early adopters,” he said. “Then, toward the end of the year, it was fully supported.”
However, setting up IoT devices is still a learning process for IT Services.
“All of us, as technicians, are always watching trends, trying to read what is up and coming,” Owsley said. “We always have new devices coming on the network all the time. We might have a student come in and hook up a device we’ve never seen before. It’s always evolving and always changing.”
Freshman Max Friedli began his own adventure with IT Services and IoT devices when he moved into his freshman dorm in August.
“The problem I have is that I have super interesting IoT devices they’ve never seen on the network,” Friedli said. “So, while they will eventually work, I have to go to the basement of Foley and reconnect all the devices. They’ve had to profile them because they’ve never been seen on the network, so that’s been a journey.”
Even though Friedli introduces challenges to the team at IT, he has never hesitated to ask for their help.
“They’ve been super cool about all this,” he said. “I thought I was just making them mad because I kept coming back with all these issues, but they kept telling me this is their job and this is what they like doing, and they always thank me for helping them learn.”
Friedli grew up in a technologically advanced household and is a self-proclaimed technology enthusiast. He has an array of IoT devices on campus, including a Google Home and Nanoleaf Aurora light panels that create an ambiance no dorm has seen before.
“I have always loved tech and stuff, and I’m a DJ, so tech is just part of my thing,” Friedli said. “I wanted my dorm to be an expression of that.”
Friedli said he is constantly heading to IT Services for help, despite his difficulties.
“It’s just a hard process,” he said. “It’s a super secure network, and I understand that. This is going to take time to figure out how exactly to make everything work.”
Even though it is not a smooth process, Friedli said he is grateful IT Services is supportive with IoT devices.
“They’ve all been super friendly, they just tell me to come down and they’ll figure it out,” he said. “Especially because it is such a small thing, they don’t have to spend hours working on my devices. But the fact that they did meant the world.”
Even with all the challenges, Friedli said he appreciates that he can enjoy these luxuries.
“Most of my friends can’t bring their devices to their dorms,” he said. “Their schools just don’t let them have them.”
Moss said the complexity of figuring out new technology doesn’t scare IT Services.
“We know this is important technology,” Moss said. “By supporting these IoT devices on campus, that hopefully gives our students a look into the future of what’s out there and how we can make life easier.”