Universities Enjoy the Full Benefits of a Network Upgrade

Higher education institutions improving their networks also see returns in security and network management.

Faster connectivity is the biggest boon of network improvements, but IT leaders also see gains in security and ease of management.

Clarke University chose Aruba’s ClearPass network access control software, which routes authenticated users to virtual LANs according to security policies, says CTO Andy Bellings. 

Student traffic is isolated from that of staff and faculty, while the guest Wi-Fi network is reserved for both guests and student-owned “headless” devices, such as smart TVs and digital media players. The latter restricts access to only the internet, says Emily Schultz, a network administrator.

ClearPass gives us a lot more visibility into our network,” says Schultz, shown above. “If something is plugged in, we will know what AP or port on the switch it is connected to. We can figure out what type of device it is. Before, we only had an IP address.”

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Upgrade Improves Management for IT Teams

At Teachers College, Columbia University, the network refresh was an opportunity to make the network more secure and easier to manage, says CIO Daniel Aracena.

For example, the university purchased a new Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewall that lets staff manage network access at a higher level.

Instead of having to create individual access control lists for each VLAN, staff can easily configure role-based access control on the firewall, he says.

5 Key Steps to Upgrading Campus Networks

A common mistake made by higher education administrators is thinking a network upgrade consists of just switching out old hardware. The process is much more complex.

“You need to carefully identify key weaknesses in your current WLAN architecture and design ways to address them,” writes Andrew Froehlich, president of West Gate Networks. “This includes ensuring the right equipment is in the right place so that your WiFi users have the best connection experience with the lowest amount of interference and congestion.”

Universities looking to successfully upgrade their networks should keep these key steps in mind, according to Froehlich:

  1. Conduct a site survey: This is crucial to finding the problems your current WLAN has, which will guide your upgrade plan. University IT teams can either conduct a survey in-house with the proper tools, or outsource it to specialists
  2. Pinpoint High-Usage Areas: While complete coverage across campus is the goal, IT teams need to know where “high-density points” for connectivity are in order to adjust for increased demand with more, or stronger, access points.
  3. Negate Potential Frequency Issues: Some campuses may be in highly populated areas and are at risk having connectivity issues caused by neighboring frequencies. Investing in spectrum analyzers and understanding the basics of network interference will go a long way. 
  4. Drop Legacy Devices: Upgrading a network may not mean only replacing hardware, but it is certainly part of it. Universities with devices that only operate on 802.11b or 802.11g should be replaced. If that is not possible, an alternative would be to create an SSID and place all legacy devices there.
  5. Create a Post-Installation Site Survey: Once the installations have been completed, it is important to re-survey the network and make any necessary adjustments to ensure an optimal network.

To learn more about end–to–end improvements in network upgrades on campus, check out IT Leaders Get Strategic About Campus Coverage

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Aug 07 2018