Shippensburg University met demand for ubiquitous computing with an upgrade to an 802.11n wireless network, say Michael Dorshimer, Isaac Lopp and Ben Ocker.

Jul 06 2011

To the Nth Degree

Shippensburg University meets the rising demand for wireless access by upgrading its network to the 802.11n standard.

Shippensburg University meets the rising demand for wireless access by upgrading its network to the 802.11n standard.

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With demand overwhelmingly exceeding supply in the spring of 2010, Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., began beefing up its wireless network in earnest. Aside from improving overall system performance, the 8,300-student institution sought to increase the physical number of access points from 300 to 400.

“One physical person can now represent two or three wireless devices simultaneously,” explains Michael Dorshimer, Shippensburg's network administrator. “In areas where we were previously covered well enough, there was overutilization that resulted in bottlenecks. And in underserved areas, we needed to expand coverage because people want wireless access everywhere.”

For its rollout, Shippensburg invested in 150 Cisco Systems Catalyst 2960-S series switches because they provided the required feature sets, including Power over Ethernet.

“This eliminated the need for access point power injectors,” notes Dorshimer. “Not only was power consumption reduced, but efficiency was also improved because access points can be managed remotely – decreasing physical trips to their locations.”

IT staff selected Cisco Aironet 3500 series access points in order to take advantage of 802.11n technology, which comes standard with the devices on both 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz frequencies. Cisco's CleanAir technology, which analyzes the signal spectrum and automatically self-corrects for local RF interference, was another draw. Additionally, the gear seamlessly integrated with existing redundant Cisco Wireless Services Module controllers.

Deployment kicked off in the summer of 2010 and is continuing in phases, the first of which addressed congestion at the library. “Replacing older access points vastly increased capacity, which significantly reduced the number of help desk calls,” Dorshimer says.

The second phase has concentrated on expanding residence hall access from the common areas to ubiquitous Wi-Fi throughout the buildings. This increase in Wi-Fi access addresses the top response from a survey of prospective Shippensburg students. “Ninety-two percent chose wireless internet access as a requirement for an ideal living situation,” says Isaac Lopp, Shippensburg's technical support center manager. “This was significantly higher than the next requirement, a social lounge/TV room in building, which came in at 78 percent.”

But retrofitting existing buildings on a budget has proved challenging for maximizing signal strength while minimizing aesthetic impact. “Steel beams and concrete walls sometimes get in the way,” observes Ben Ocker, Shippensburg's distributed systems specialist for telecommunications.

“We not only determined the best access point locations, wiring routes and mounting options, but also selected the right antenna type and configuration for each node,” Ocker adds.

As Shippensburg continues to update switches and access points in all 50 of its academic, residential, administrative and recreational facilities, Dorshimer expects the benefits to multiply. “I'm already saving a few hours a week due to centralized management and the CleanAir technologies,” he says.

“Most important,” Dorshimer adds, “we're building a robust wireless network that anticipates demand over the next five years, rather than always playing catch-up.”

Staying Ahead of the Game

Like Shippensburg, every higher education institution must act now to stay ahead of the mobile onslaught, says industry veteran Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for the Aberdeen Group.

“Best-in-class organizations realize that a pervasive and powerful network edge is an essential enabler to delivering on the promise of a fully connected organization,” Borg says.

Another institution taking a first-class approach is 1,900-student Connecticut College in New London, Conn., where a ubiquitous wireless initiative began in 2002. By 2004, however, throughput supplied by 802.11g equipment was deemed insufficient.

“We decided to wait for a newer, higher capacity standard,” explains Bruce Carpenter, director of technical support for the college.

Improvement in end-to-end performance by those who upgraded to 802.11n-based wireless networking.

SOURCE: "Wireless LAN 2011: Readying the Invisible Network for the Smart Revolution,” Aberdeen Group (April 2011)

Then, in the summer of 2010, Connecticut College started upgrading to Aruba AP-105 wireless access points with Aruba 3000 series mobility controllers deployed in a redundant architecture.

The Aruba Networks solution ensured every room in the residence halls would have a minimum of 15 megabits-per-second throughput for all users, Carpenter says. “And, the system supported a future VoIP implementation,” he adds.

Today, with all 23 residence halls, dining halls and the library upgraded, the college experiences far fewer wireless problems, Carpenter reports. “In addition, the graphical interface for the controllers improves network maintenance and troubleshooting,” he says.

Teaching and learning also benefit from the network upgrades. “Because the network has a higher capacity and reliability, faculty members now assign students to view academic video programs regularly,” says Carpenter. “We've even seen an increase in the student use of the academic course management system.”

<p>Bob Skalkowski</p>