UNE leverages Aruba Networks solutions to create an innovative campus experience and support their implementation of Microsoft Skype for Business over Wi-Fi campus-wide.
Located in the regional town of Armidale in northern NSW, The University of New England (UNE) is Australia’s oldest regional university. Founded in 1938, the University today caters to 23,000 students and employs approximately 3,000 staff. The organisation has a further 10 locations across the state incorporating 160 buildings, as well as nine residential
Dedicated to positioning itself as the most innovative and technologically advanced university in Australia when it comes to both on-site and learning by distance education, UNE offers more than 200 courses at undergraduate, postgraduate, and higher degree research levels to its 23,000 long distance and onsite students. The University is currently working to represent the campus of the future, and recently sought a next-generation IT infrastructure that provided its staff and students with communication and collaboration capabilities anytime, and from virtually anywhere.
Focused on modernising its technology, UNE’s management team completed a comprehensive review of its IT infrastructure in early 2013, and made the decision to upgrade from an 802.11g wireless network, to the latest 802.11ac networking standard.
“Wi-Fi coverage was previously patchy as students and staff moved about campuses. As the UNE campuses are more widespread as opposed to tall skyscrapers, we needed a wireless solution that would give us more total coverage,” said Gordon Smith, Associate Director, Infrastructure Services, Information Technology.
“We were looking to improve the bandwidth available to users so we could better support emerging digital learning tools, such as streaming video. This was totally impossible on the old network, with any given access point sharing a mere 25MB amongst the number of users on that AP at any given moment,” continued Smith.
There’s an increasingly heavy load on the network – with users often manipulating large files. There is no limit to what’s being used on it. Everyone is empowered by more access to information.
Gordon Smith, Associate Director, Infrastructure Services, Information Technology
UNE underwent a comprehensive tender process ahead of partnering with Aruba Networks to overhaul its wireless environment. Key requirements for the selected network included seamless integration with unified communications platform, Skype for Business (formerly Lync), as well as a security infrastructure provided by Palo Alto Networks.
“We wanted a secure Wi-Fi fabric that was very meshed, gave us control over the network, linked with third party solutions, and allowed us to manage data through the system. Our decision came down to Aruba or Cisco. Aruba’s reputation for most effectively supporting both Skype for Business and the highly secure Palo Alto firewall platform, compared to other wireless vendors in the market, made Aruba the clear winner. Cost-wise, Aruba is also very appealing as you scale it out, so this was also a ‘nice to have,’” said Smith.
“Wireless has now become an essential service particularly in Education – its mandatory and expected to be provided everywhere, all the time. Previously, we had about 300 APs covering the campus, and now we’re deploying a total 1200 Aruba APs across the entire grounds,” added Smith.
Future-proof Wi-Fi that has no limits
The 802.11ac enterprise mobility solution provided by Aruba and installed by network integrator, UXC Connect, is currently being implemented throughout UNE campuses, and represents one of the largest deployments of its kind within the Asia Pacific education sector.
“The Aruba 802.11ac technology can give us over a gigabit of throughput per end user device, so we’re installing two Internet cables per access point,” said Smith.
The enterprise mobility network at UNE is being used for a range of different purposes at UNE from teaching, learning, research and administration to collaboration.
“People are already using Skype, downloading and uploading videos for course work. There’s an increasingly heavy load on the network. There is no limit to what’s being used on it. Everyone is empowered by more access to information,” said Smith.
The Aruba Airwave network management solution allows Smith and the wider three person IT team identify the operating systems and types of devices accessing the network, at any time from a single dashboard.
“Students at UNE bring two-three devices onto the network and increasingly, I see academics using tablets in meetings to record or view documents, whereas previously these offices wouldn’t have had wireless access. In the past few months, we’ve seen 12,000 devices enter the network. There’s been up to 2,300 devices connected at any given minute. This has all been powered and stabilised by Aruba,” said Smith.
Additionally, Aruba’s enterprise mobility network has been deployed throughout UNE’s nine residential colleges, the newest facility is very well connected with 63 access points for 230 students, catering to multiple devices per student.
“We’ve not had any complaints regarding the new network to date. With its faster speeds and Aruba’s ClientMatch roaming technology, it has the capacity to get people on and off the access points faster, so there’s no slowing down while moving about the campus,” added Smith.
Calling on an a secure, all-wireless campus
UNE has also adopted a unified communication solution and uses the full capability of Microsoft Skype for Business including voice and video over Aruba Wi-Fi to further create an allwireless campus, and remove the ‘distance’ from distance learning programs. This new platform delivers an interactive educational experience regardless of whether students are in a classroom or not.
“We fully replaced UNE’s phone system with Skype for Business, enabling it to run as an App on the student’s personal devices so they can rapidly communicate with lecturers and peers at no additional costs via the network connection. Skype for Business also empowers students with a range of tools including instant messaging, sharing of desktops and applications - adding an extra layer to student-staff collaboration,” said Smith.
The wireless network also combines with Palo Alto Networks’ security platform to ensure all data travelling along Wi-Fi air passes through a secure firewall. As new users and devices connect to the network, Aruba’s mobility defined network architecture shares contextual data with the Palo Alto Networks platform monitoring for any policy violations to the network.
“Having a next generation firewall, as well as a tool that could securely move data across devices without having any lag was critical, and Palo Alto best met our needs. Both Palo Alto and Aruba are renowned for integrating seamlessly and this has rung true in our use. It just works,” explained Smith.
A long-term, expanding partnership
With UNE continuing its roll-out of additional 802.11ac access points, Smith describes each deployment as painless. “It’s very quick, taking no more than five minutes per access point to be pre-configured before being fixed to the corridors. The speed of deployment is high,” said Smith.
UNE plans to deploy more Aruba features in the future, enabling deeper integration and optimisation with Microsoft Lync and other applications, as well as rolling out a mesh solution to students residing in surrounding campus areas. Armidale is a very well connected town, known for its access to the fastest National Broadband Network connection in the country. However, Smith says the Aruba solution is significantly higher performing wireless solution.
“We plan to better manage Skype for Business wireless calls through Aruba Airwave by minimising any potential dropouts, as well as better utilise Airwave’s robust reporting facility. Next, we’re also looking to deploy the solution even more widely to students residing in the town centre, as well as the airport. Using my laptop while connected to the Aruba mobility network is five times faster than the fastest NBN connection that’s available in Armidale,” continued Smith.