Grove City College

Aruba 802.11ac wireless access points deployed to improve Wi-Fi security, coverage and performance

Delivering ultra-fast Wi-Fi is increasingly essential to the college experience, but can be particularly challenging for older colleges. Located an hour north of Pittsburgh, Grove City College was founded in 1876.

“At Grove City College, all students enjoy the benefits of college-issued wireless devices. Our primary objective was to ensure that older buildings were able to keep pace with student expectations, while controlling associated costs,” explains Grove City College CIO Vince DiStasi. “For us it was a business imperative to increase performance, coverage, and flexibility of our Wi-Fi network to deliver on a high quality experience for our 2,500 students.”

Extending existing infrastructure

A long-time user of Hewlett Packet Enterprise (HPE) datacenter, core, and wireless solutions, Grove City College had a legacy Wi-Fi network in place but it provided limited coverage in many of the residence halls and meeting areas, such as the campus library. This ageing Wi-Fi network was time-consuming to maintain and could not deliver the ultra-fast Wi-Fi connectivity the college required.

“We wanted to provide a consistent Wi-Fi experience throughout the campus while delivering higher-speed wireless services,” says Michael Aque, Network Architect for the college. As Grove City College was evaluating upgrade options, HPE acquired Aruba, now an HPE company.

“We waited until we evaluated the roadmap for integrating the Aruba products into HPE, and then developed a strategy for migrating our Wi-Fi infrastructure to Aruba networking products,” he continues.

Deploying 802.11ac connectivity

Grove City College implemented a phased implementation plan, focusing first on buildings with limited coverage. “We wanted to implement a Wi-Fi network that faculty, students, administrators, and guests could depend on, and that meant universal wireless coverage,” says DiStasi. “That’s why we focused first on older residence halls and the campus library, where wireless performance was not as strong as other locations on campus.”

Overcoming obstacles

Our Wave 2 APs increase Wi-Fi performance and future-proof our wireless network.
Vince DiStasi, CIO of Grove City College

Aruba installed Wave 2 802.11ac Access Points (APs) connected to 7200 Series Mobility Controllers in the Henry Buhl Library, which was built in 1954.

“This older facility is filled with books and had brick-and-mortar obstacles to Wi-Fi performance. Although it’s an essential learning area for students, it had poor Wi-Fi coverage,” says Aque. “We installed 22 APs in the library as a proof of concept, and we immediately went from dozens of coverage complaints per month to zero coverage complaints in the library.”

The college is also expanding its wireless switching infrastructure by deploying 5400R Switch Series platforms to augment its existing Aruba switches. This powerful Layer 3 modular switch series delivers high-performance, low latency, and resiliency, and is providing Grove City College with a better mobile-first campus experience.

Expanding Wi-Fi connectivity

Grove City College then added 802.11ac APs to several solid brick cinderblock residence halls, and is now aggressively expanding Wi-Fi coverage across the campus.

“Our goal is to have 802.11ac coverage in every building within the next three months,” says DiStasi. “We’ll also have 802.11ac APs operational by then in about half of our residence halls.” DiStasi expects to have at least 825 Aruba 802.11ac APs operational within this timeframe.

Streamlining network operations

The college is leveraging ClearPass Policy Manager to securely authenticate users and AirWave network management to obtain a single view of the network to analyze and understand usage trends.

Authenticating users with ClearPass

Grove City College originally deployed ClearPass to simplify the authentication of guests and support the on-boarding of new users, and is now broadening its usage to enable users to register their own devices.

“ClearPass delivers visibility, policy control, and workflow automation in one cohesive solution, and we’re now using it to improve wireless network security, better understand network usage, and provide a single portal for user authentication,” says DiStasi. Grove City College is enabling a seamless roaming experience across the campus, and giving visitors simple and secure guest network access while enabling students, faculty, and other members of the campus community to securely access college resources over the wireless network.

Optimizing performance and coverage with AirWave
The college is currently using HPE Intelligent Management Center (IMC) to manage its wired and wireless networks, but over the next few months will be implementing AirWave to administer the Wi-Fi infrastructure. AirWave is a powerful and easy-to-use network management platform that will provide IT with granular visibility into devices, users, and applications running on the wireless network.

“We’ll be using AirWave to supplement HPE IMC and provide a single view into our wireless infrastructure,” says Aque. Through a centralized and intuitive user interface, AirWave will provide IT with real-time monitoring, proactive alerts, and historical reporting. IT staff will also use it to streamline troubleshooting and continuously optimize wireless coverage and performance.

Future-proofing wireless infrastructure

“We’ve relied on HPE wireless solutions since 2004 and I think we’ve deployed every solution that HPE has offered,” states DiStasi. “Now we’re focusing on delivering consistently high performance anywhere on campus.”

The Wave 2 Aruba 802.11ac APs have an integrated Bluetooth Aruba Beacon that simplifies the remote management of Aruba beacons while also providing advanced location and indoor way finding, as well as proximity-based push notification capabilities. It is enabling Grove City College to leverage mobility context to support applications that deliver an enhanced user experience.

“We’ll be using the Meridian Mobile App Platform to build mobile apps that can be used across the campus,” states DiStasi. “For example, prospective students will be able to take a self-guided tour, and students will be able to look up the availability of reference materials in the library from their mobile devices.”

Increasing performance and reliability
The use of Bluetooth and beacons is helping Grove City College future-proof its wireless infrastructure.

“We’re in the early stages of leveraging these technologies but will increasingly utilize them to enhance the wireless experience for our students,” says DiStasi. “By deploying Aruba 802.11ac APs, we’ve been able to increase performance by over 50 percent, and our management tools are providing insights that are helping us ensure reliable, campus-wide Wi-Fi coverage.”

He concludes, “Wi-Fi is now becoming more integrated into the classroom experience. It’s difficult to captivate students for 50 minutes to an hour-and-a-half in a classroom experience if there are Wi-Fi problems, and by increasing the performance and reliability of our wireless network we are better preparing students to enter the world when they graduate. In the past we viewed Wi-Fi as a matter of convenience, but we now view it as a mission-critical resource that is central to the education of our students.”