Swedish County Learns to Count on Its Wi-Fi
In the Swedish county of Enköping, the local government’s Wi-Fi estate had just grown and grown, with no direction or control. The result by 2007 was – as in so many organisations – a mess of multiple networks from different vendors, while at the same time users were clamouring for yet more wireless coverage.
For the IT team tasked with supporting Enköping’s many government offices, schools and so on, the message was clear: it needed a single Wi-Fi system, capable of providing local services while being managed centrally. And when team members discovered Aruba Networks,that was exactly what they found.
“We were visiting a neighbouring county and we saw their Aruba system,” explains Enköping municipal IT consultant Tomas Lilja. “We decided almost immediately that this was the system we wanted to have – it got us interested because we had a lot of networks that had grown up in different offices with stand-alone access points, so we wanted a centralised system, but we also got a very good response from our IT partner Network Services – they’re the biggest in Sweden with Aruba.”
I’m very pleased with Aruba’s products. We have had just one bug to fix in seven years – that’s not something you can say about many suppliers.
Tomas Lilja, IT Consultant, Enköping municipality
The roll-out started slowly, but soon accelerated dramatically. They began by putting three or four access points (APs) into each of the county’s 13 schools. Lilja says that at that point the school network was separate from the central network covering the council offices and the administration. However, as soon as they heard that the schools had deployed Aruba wireless, the central network users became interested too.
“So while we had three or four separate networks when we started, about five years ago we started merging them to get one big network – that was when the big expansion started. Now we’ve been buying 100 access points a year for the last five years,” Lilja says. “We don’t have total coverage in all the buildings yet, but we’re getting there.”
Along the way, the Enköping team also learnt how important the physical infrastructure is to a project like this. For example, the existing equipment cabinets were built for much smaller network switches, so they had to be rebuilt at extra cost to take modern Power-over-Ethernet switches. And while they could reuse the existing Ethernet cabling to start with, the subsequent switch to ceiling-mounted access points (APs) required new cabling.
Lilja says that Aruba’s tactic of working through experienced local IT partners helped a lot. For example, he says that while the system is very low-maintenance once running, the initial configuration was quite complex, so having a partner who already knew the technology and the customer’s business was a big help. “I have a personal connection with most of the people I deal with at Network Services” he adds. “It’s not a very large company, so I get the help I want, when I need it.”
Enköping’s Aruba network now includes some 700 APs across 60 different locations, and is used by municipal staff, teachers and students. There are about 3500 staff and 8000 students in Enköping county. The APs are a mix of older and newer models. “It’s around 75% 802.11n and 25% 802.11ac,” says Lilja. “We are going towards 11ac everywhere when it’s time to replace the old APs because it’s faster – OK, not many devices have it yet, but it’s good to stay ahead of the curve rather than get caught with too much traffic.”
All these are managed by three Aruba 7210 controllers in a master-local-local configuration. “We have a very good network with Gigabit fibre binding all our buildings together, so we can run centralised wireless,” Lilja says, adding that the county also owns 50 RAPs (remote access points) for people who work from home – connected to an ordinary domestic broadband connection, a RAP extends the office Wi-Fi into the home.
“RAPs are mostly for administrative staff so they can work from home,” he explains. “It is very simple – we tell them to take it home with their work computer and plug it in. It is very easy because then it’s the same network, they don’t need special client software on the PC, and they don’t have to use their home computer for work through a VPN – that would add too much complexity. We had a lot of problems with VPNs in the past, with users not knowing how to work it. The RAP is slightly more expensive, but it saves a lot of work – you just plug it in, start it up, and it just works.”
He adds that Enköping’s system also includes Aruba Airwave for network monitoring, ClearPass for guest access and so staff can connect their own devices to the network, and a Radius server to authenticate wireless clients. “All employees can on-board a device via ClearPass, and soon the students will be able to as well,” he says. “We’re now trying to use Clearpass and the Radius server to authenticate for the wired network as well – that’s not very common. We are hoping to run a pilot this spring – it would add a lot of security and be easier for me.”
The reception from users has been very good, he says: “It’s always good to see what needs the different users have and find out what they want to do before you size the network. When we said we were going to build a wireless network, they said they didn’t have a need – but we saw it would come!”
Wireless is now the main network in schools, where laptops are standard and there is little or no Ethernet cabling, but elsewhere it depends on people’s needs. Many staff have their own offices with wired Ethernet for instance, and a wired connection makes tasks such as reinstalling a computer much simpler. However, there is more and more wireless everywhere, especially as users become more mobile and expect to be able to use their own mobile devices. Lilja estimates that around 50% of staff already use the wireless, and that the proportion is higher among students.
This all makes it vital to have the right support tools in place. “Airwave is a very good product for monitoring, for being able to trace problems, search for a computer and find out what has happened,” Lilja says. “It lets me see trends too, for example if one AP is overloaded we can take measures, such as putting up another AP even before we get support calls. The controllers only see the last 10 or 15 minutes activity but Airwave gives us statistics for the past year, so the savings in support time easily justify the cost.”
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