Nathaniel Hewitt of Wiley College will depend on a network built on Enterasys gear when the institution begins building a planned 500-bed “living and learning” residence hall. 

May 03 2012

Colleges Upgrade Networks to Support BYOD

IT departments now view network upgrades as essential in attracting and keeping today’s students.

Colleges and universities are learning that supporting a “bring your own device” (BYOD) strategy requires a robust network that can deliver. Just ask ­Nathaniel Hewitt of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.

“A decade ago, the Wiley College ‘techno-culture,’ still in its infancy, struggled to embrace networked technologies and were not consistent users, nor great fans, of networked technologies,” explains Hewitt, vice president for information systems and technology at the 140-year-old college.

“Uncertainty surrounding infrastructure needs, support and rising costs were seen as challenges to our growth,” he says. “Today, anywhere, anytime access is understood as being necessary to attract and retain our students.”

Tasked with ensuring that a student’s online life is as fulfilling as their traditional classroom experiences, IT departments at colleges and universities are revving up their networks to deliver fast, reliable and secure connections to meet ubiquitous computing demands.

“BYOD is really more like ‘BYO3 or 4’ as students arrive on campus with smartphones, tablets, PCs and maybe a gaming console that connects to the wireless network,” says Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group.

At Wiley College, the first historically black college west of the Mississippi, a network upgrade grew critical as it transitioned from a 550-student residential institution to enrolling almost 1,400 traditional and nontraditional learners.

In addition to population growth, the percentage of students bringing their own technology to school also increased by 82 percent. “By 2009, the performance of our network was so saturated that we were fortunate if we could push an e-mail across campus,” Hewitt says.

With Wiley’s CEO Dr. Haywood L. Strickland, who’s often referred to as the “technology president,” serving as the project’s champion, Wiley conducted an extensive internal review and external evaluation of providers before selecting Enterasys for a complete upgrade to core, wired and wireless equipment.

“Enterasys worked with us in a true partnership to build a fully redundant network with built-in fail-safes that are triggered within seconds if an outage occurs, which happens periodically during East Texas weather events,” says Hewitt. “In fact, on several occasions, when the campus has been without power to the main buildings, our network has remained online.”

To upgrade its 3 megabit-per-second network into a high-performance, high-availability LAN, WAN and WLAN that would support data and Voice over IP at 90Mbps, Wiley installed new Enterasys enterprise core switches at the main and satellite campuses. Next, the primary wiring closets were rewired. “The first phase alone improved network performance by over 50 percent,” Hewitt says.

Then last fall, the college upgraded to 802.11n wireless networking using 85 Enterasys HiPath AP3610 access points, along with two Enterasys C4110 controllers. For continuity, CyberPower UPS devices were also installed.

The setup includes the Enterasys Network Management Suite (NMS), unified LAN/WAN tools for automating and streamlining administration, which is critical for maximizing staffing resources at a small institution like Wiley. The new gear has also made an educational impact.

“Instructors are now able to integrate online learning technologies, such as blogs, chat, social media systems and audio and video streaming into their courses,” says Hewitt. “These network improvements enabled the college to pilot its first online learning program to address the academic needs of our nontraditional students.”

WLAN 2.0

About 1,200 miles to the northeast, it’s a similar story for 12,000-student American University in Washington, D.C. When users began accessing the institution’s existing WLAN with multiple devices, the 230-node first-generation network strained under the load. 

“Suddenly, we had 4,000 clients concurrently on the system,” explains Hassan Marvi, director of network operations at AU. “And it’s no longer one student with one device — they sometimes have three or four devices simultaneously accessing the network.”

Marvi’s team chose an Aruba system made up of 802.11n AP 125 access points, MMC-34000 and MMC-3600 controllers, and the AirWave management suite, which includes encrypted transmissions for secure communications. Beyond meeting AU’s technology specifications, Aruba also provided a detailed breakdown showing the institution’s specific problem areas, which was a unique offering, Marvi says.

68% The increase over the past year in student-owned technology accessing the LAN and WLAN networks at Wiley College.

SOURCE: Wiley College

With a total of 860 access points required to cover on- and off-campus spaces — indoors and out — AU split the deployment into phases, finishing up in early 2011. Today, Marvi consults Aruba’s management tools for instant visibility into where, when and how many devices any given individual is using on the network. “We have management capabilities unavailable to us before, making the network easier to maintain,” Marvi says.

And when he visits classrooms, Marvi says it’s becoming common to see everyone participating on a computing device. “With our new network, students collaborate with instructors and each other anywhere and anytime,” he says. “It’s definitely improved the reputation of our university.”

The University of South Florida is also expanding its wireless network to accommodate numerous multi­device users.

“We see periods of over 13,000 concurrent wireless users throughout the day, so our network is critical to teaching and learning,” says Joe Rogers, assistant director of network engineering at the 47,000-student university in Tampa, Fla. Rogers says providing sufficient coverage density in large classrooms, auditoriums and stadiums is leading to the installation of additional Cisco Aironet 3500- and 3600-series 802.11n access points.

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“For every seat we have in these venues, we have to plan for two to three wireless devices,” says Rogers, noting that it’s a challenge to do so in spaces with more than 300 seats. “We continually monitor our network and run reports of the busiest APs, making it very clear which areas are being overtaxed,” he says.

That’s one reason USF selected Cisco’s Aironet APs, Rogers says. The device’s CleanAir technology lets his team remotely diagnose and quickly resolve RF issues.

“In the past, we had to physically visit sites experiencing problems and use notebook-based diagnostic tools,” he says.

USF is also moving to the Aironet 3600-series APs for their three-spatial-stream (3SS) technology, which raises the maximum theoretical 802.11n throughput from 300Mbps to 450Mbps. “As more client devices ship with 3SS-capable radios, the additional throughput will help ease some of the challenges in high-density areas,” Rogers says.

Matt Hawthorne

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