For HiST, the second largest university college in Norway, the decision to adopt the new 802.11ac specification for high-speed wireless was an easy one. The growing use of collaborative tools in teaching – most notably Microsoft Lync – meant that demand for WiFi was rocketing. Aruba Networks won the selection – being one of three vendors pre-selected by the Uninett organization as worthy contenders.
“Lync Online is one of the major drivers for us,” says Arnt Richard Rørvik, the head of development of ICT services in HiST. “We’re targeting it among other purposes for online lecturing and podcasts, our ambition is to use a lot more multimedia in teaching and to a certain extent to move to open-plan offices, that will require a lot of high-quality bandwidth. One of our sister colleges has been experiencing problems with its older 802.11n technology, but Aruba’s 11ac remedies a lot of the flaws of 11g/n for us, for example using MIMO and beam forming so the client responds in a sensible manner.”
We haven’t seen any other technology giving such easy access. It is superior at making the basic things simple and is more of a one-stop shop.
Arnt Richard Rørvik, Head of Development of ICT Services, HiST
At the same time, the HiST team faced the challenge of BYOD. Users were bringing in an ever-increasing range of wireless devices, yet HiST’s original wireless network could not readily treat different client types differently. That meant they could only configure for the most common devices and the most basic network features.
“For example, Windows Phones and Apple devices behave differently with respect to DHCP, making it difficult to find a configuration that would suit both using our previous wireless system”, explains Erik Hammervold, HiST’s chief network engineer. “We could have fixed it for Apple, but that would have broken it for others. Aruba seems to be built from the ground up to handle different types of devices differently, if that is what it takes”.
When the HiST team met Aruba Networks it was a revelation: not only could Aruba supply 11ac equipment, but its controllers could recognise different devices and profile each one appropriately for the best wireless performance. “We never thought we would need anything other than the current vendor,” says Rørvik. “But then we met Aruba and we thought, ‘Wow, is it really that simple to differentiate between clients, or even set policies by client type?!’”
HiST plan to replace all its old wireless network with Aruba and restrict rogue APs, and makes agreements with companies based in its buildings to use the college’s WiFi, reducing interference by giving them virtual networks leading them into their own physical networks.
“We have a lot of buildings – too many!” says Rørvik. “We have about 80,000 square metres over eight campuses, including four central hubs, and around 12,000 full and part-time students.” To make it even more challenging, many of those buildings are in the centre of Trondheim, HiST’s home city, so there is plenty of interference from other wireless networks.
“Our first wireless deployment in 2001 worked pretty well but only covered about 50% of the area, plus the coverage varied a lot depending on who had done the deployment and the nature of the building,” Rørvik notes. “Users were complaining and student surveys revealed dissatisfaction, so the requirement came for 100% coverage, with a single sign-on. The next wireless system – called Wireless HiST 1.0 – upped the ante to 100% area coverage, with sufficient capacity for auditoriums with up to 350 students working simultaneously.
By the time the new project – called Wireless HiST 2.0 – is complete in 2015, Rørvik expects to have around 1000 access points (APs) installed, including several Remote APs (RAPs) in employees’ homes: “If HiST pays for an employee’s bandwidth they should install an AP, eventually then we get even more wireless coverage across Trondheim,” he says. “We also had a multitude of SSIDSs before and wanted to reduce that to two – we actually got it down to three.”
He continues: “Our BYOD project is now going way beyond what we had planned to begin with, it’s both on and off-site. QoS is very important though – for example, VMware and other BYOD technology works very well for getting Windows applications to Mac users on-site, but not off-site because there is no QoS, so I expect some students will prefer to work on campus.”
All HiST’s new APs are 11ac now. “It’s just the right time to go for 11ac – it’s in all the new portables and smartphones,” Rørvik explains. “You had a lot of voluntary features in 11n, they are mostly compulsory in 11ac. For example, 5GHz is compulsory so there’s a lot more channels and less interference.” The ability to profile client devices also helps here – HiST still provides 2.4GHz coverage, but the Aruba controllers will direct clients that it knows are 5GHz-capable to prefer that band.
The Aruba controllers also solved a looming IP address crunch by allowing some devices to be given private addresses, says Erik Hammervold. “We have 3000 devices online at any time – students are rewriting the expectations all the time – so just as the world is running out of IP addresses, we are too,” he explains. “We can now say that a device that’s only reading email is not as important, so for example your iPad doesn’t need a public IP address and can go on NAT.”
HiST had already done some groundwork ahead of the Aruba installation, for example scrapping a lot of older cabling and replacing it with CAT6 cable, and ensuring that new buildings have CAT7 cores with CAT6 termination. “It means we can serve two times 1Gbit/s with current termination kit, and have the possibility of 10Gbit/s in the future. We can also replace the APs in five years time without replanning the coverage,” Hammervold explains.
He adds that, in some ways, the biggest challenge posed by the new Aruba network was just how massively capable it is. For instance, he says that “installing ClearPass requires a lot of thinking, not because it’s a problem but because it has so many features and can do so much. If you have ambitions – and you should have if you install ClearPass – you need to rethink your network. It’s a different way of thinking from our present vendor Cisco. It means when clients move, the network must follow. What matters is what kind of user is accessing the network – you have to think what sort of service you want to provide, and here you’ll benefit greatly from having a good local partner.”
Rørvik agrees, concluding: “We haven’t seen any other technology giving such easy access. It is superior at making the basic things simple and is more of a one-stop shop. With other suppliers, we would need more boxes or third-party gear.”
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