Case Study: College Revamps Aging Wireless Network

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Dean College, a historic private college in Franklin, Mass., serves more than 1,200 students, most of whom live in one of Dean’s 11 residence halls. Years ago, the school was one of the first American universities to convert its entire campus to wireless networking, but the technology was growing obsolete. In 2009, Dean’s IT staff was planning a three-year internal network upgrade – that is, until the department was told to complete the 36-month goals in just one year. There were two motivating factors. The first was the pending construction of a giant performing arts hall – college officials realized the new building would further strain an already overburdened wireless network. The second was Dean College’s lack of a disaster recovery plan.

The Challenge. By 2009, Dean College students and faculty were consuming so much social media and Internet video that the old wireless network was struggling to keep up. The original infrastructure had been thrown together, ad hoc, over the years and was made up mostly of outdated cabling and inefficient data transport gear. And the problem promised to grow worse as bandwidth consumption only continued to rise.

Then, in October of that same year, Dean College broke ground on a 28,800-square-foot performing arts hall and dining center. It was scheduled for completion in fall 2010. The center’s size and multipurpose functionality meant the existing wireless network would be insufficient. In addition, Dean College needed disaster recovery capabilities in case an event – natural or manmade – threatened network redundancy, data security or operational continuity.

To meet its deadlines and construct the right platform, Dean College turned to value-added reseller Carousel Industries. Together, the organizations condensed Dean’s three-year upgrade plan into one year. To do that, though, they knew they would have to work around a big obstacle: the college’s perennially running operations. The only period that would allow for substantial construction, cabling and network component replacement would be the summer of 2010 — from mid-May through the beginning of August, a window of less than three months. Still, Dean College was holding some classes during the summer. Carousel Industries and Dean College’s IT staff had to do extensive planning to finish the work without disrupting classes or other college operations.

Dean College was facing a giant task. The construction of the new performance center, obsolescence of existing IT infrastructure, soaring bandwidth demands and decreasing network reliability all added up to a big problem: how to rapidly engineer and install a modern network in record time, while navigating the constant activity taking place on Dean’s campus. “We really had a perfect storm," said Darrell Kulesza, CIO of Dean College.

The Solution. Working around summer classes, Dean and Carousel first put in new network cabling campuswide, outfitting the school with industry-standard Cat 6 Ethernet cable. At the same time, Carousel and Dean started to install the backbone of the school’s new network: a series of HP ProCurve 2910al data switches, for reliable and robust 10Gb data transport among Dean’s four main building centers. Then, Carousel deployed 335 Aruba Networks AP-105 access points, blanketing the campus in 802.11n a/b/g/n wireless connectivity. Finally, an Aruba 6000 Mobility Controller provided three more critical pieces of the puzzle: central wireless traffic management, a scalable platform delivering up to 20Gb throughput and a secured policy enforcement firewall. Once that was done, the new network covered Dean’s 23 buildings — including 11 dormitories.

The upgraded network also paved the way for Dean and Carousel to tackle the next technology challenge: disaster recovery. That project began in January 2011; so far, Carousel has added the HP StorageWorks MSL4048 tape backup product to Dean’s network.

The Results. Carousel and Dean finished the network overhaul in time for students’ August 2010 return. Then, in September 2010, Dean’s new performance center opened, and very few technology trouble-tickets were reported as students and faculty returned to class. Dean College now has a wireless network that will keep pace with ever-higher bandwidth usage, and a disaster recovery plan in case of a crisis.

“We were able to plan this project … very well with Carousel Industries," said Kulesza." A lot of time spent planning and adhering to the plan – that was critical to our success."

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