Management technology makes it possible to oversee wired and wireless networks from a single interface.
To proactively serve student needs, Columbus State University's IT department surveys nearly 10,000 students every semester to find out how the Georgia institution can best accommodate them. Students have overwhelmingly sent the message that they want to communicate with the university via smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices.
This feedback has prompted CSU's University Information and Technology Services department to commit to 100 percent wireless access. The team is well on its way to achieving that goal: Its two largest campuses, including the 150-acre main campus in Columbus, Ga., are fully wireless, using HP ProCurve's technology. Three adjunct campuses, the university's shuttle buses and sports team buses are largely wireless as well, notes Bob Diveley, executive director of operations and infrastructure services.
The university's rapidly growing wireless network and its HP-based wired network are currently administered with two separate tools, which creates management challenges. The IT department manages the wired network with HP's ProCurve Manager Plus, a Windows-based network management platform that allows for mapping, configuration and monitoring. The wireless LAN is managed with individual HP wireless controllers.
As the WLAN expands, the devices used to access the network change as well. Finding a way to manage the wired and wireless network together will improve operations and save time, says Mack Ragan, the department's senior manager of networks and infrastructure.
“It would be really great not to have to log in to different controllers and manage different wireless antennas,” he says. “We wouldn't have to remember which wireless antenna is associated with which controller, and it would allow us to be more proactive and reactive.”
The new class of converged network management tools – including Enterasys' Network Management Suite, Aruba Networks' Mobile Virtual Enterprise (MOVE), Cisco Systems' Prime Network Control System and HP's FlexNetwork – allows organizations to manage wired and wireless networks from the same console and can help improve network management, security and compliance.
“We're seeing convergence in virtualization, storage and other areas of technology, and it also makes sense in network management,” says Frank Berry, CEO and senior analyst of IT Brand Pulse in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “For network management, the benefits are obvious: It improves manageability and security while giving IT staff the tools they need to see what's happening to their traffic from one end of the network to the other.”
Jean Boland, vice president for administrative services and IT at Morrisville State College in New York, also sees merit in managing wired and wireless networks together.
Estimated maximum savings from operating an integrated access architecture compared with a legacy architecture
SOURCE: “The Aruba Mobile Virtual Enterprise: The Next-Generation Network Access Architecture for the Post-Laptop Era,” Aruba Networks (February 2011)
Today, the college manages its wired network, which serves 45 buildings, with technology from Enterasys. The IT group uses a separate appliance from wireless manufacturer Meru Networks to manage its wireless network, which has more than 800 access points blanketing 2 million square feet of indoor air space and covering all outdoor activity areas, including the stadium, football field and parking lots.
Boland hasn't considered a converged network management solution because the Meru appliance that manages the university's APs and controllers has numerous features that are particularly useful and unique. For example, the Meru device has the ability to proactively monitor and test network performance.
“Up until this point, we haven't found a converged solution that would include the features we like from the Meru appliance; but if we found one with the features we are looking for, we would be interested,” she says. “There would certainly be a lot of benefit to having one system to manage both.”
Tips for Making Converged Network Management Work
- Configure the converged network management tool to meet users' needs as well the requirements of the existing infrastructure.
- Establish quality of service metrics from the beginning; measure such things as network quality and performance; delay, jitter, echo and packet loss; burst and gap metrics.
- Maintain enough capacity to handle the converged network now and for the next one to two years. The system should be scalable so that it can grow with the infrastructure.
- Determine what level of security risk is acceptable to both the network and its users, and balance that with other parameters, such as speed.
- Acquire in-house expertise to manage the converged network, and don't skimp on training.