Nazareth Area School District

Boosting student success with an Aruba mobile-first network from edge to core

USE CASE: Standardize on a network infrastructure that truly supports a mobile, digital learning environment for developing students to become innovative, collaborative and constructive citizens.

With increasing licensing costs and legacy equipment unable to keep up with new demands, Michael Uelses knew his institution’s infrastructure needed to evolve.

“We were embarking on a one-to-one mobile initiative to ensure our students are prepared for post-secondary success,” says Uelses, Director of Information Technology at the Nazareth Area School District. “We needed to modernize our network from the edge to the core to meet our objectives for providing exceptional experiences for teachers and students.”

Advice from Other Districts Seals the Deal

With its previous network, Nazareth was experiencing cost and complexity headaches. “Our existing vendor’s roadmap seemed to favor increasingly complex solutions with burdensome licensing requirements,” says Mike Fahey, Senior Application and Network Administrator at the 4,800+ student Eastern Pennsylvania district.

With digital curricula and mobile expectations here to stay, our new Aruba network will enable us to support our teachers and students for years to come.
Michael Uelses, Director of Information Technology, Nazareth Area School District

“Due to our district’s size and lean IT staff, we were interested in other options,” he adds.

The Nazareth IT staff began by surveying other districts and higher education institutions around the region to learn from peers about wired and wireless options. They quickly discovered numerous organizations were committed to Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

Reliability and Intelligence at the Heart of the Network

For wired networking, Nazareth was particularly excited about Aruba’s intelligent core switches.

“The high-availability switches included the new ArubaOS-CX operating system,” Fahey says. “It was attractive for easy programmability and the onboard Network Analytics Engine, both of which would give us advanced capabilities while simultaneously reducing the complexity of our wired and wireless networks.”

Ultimately, Nazareth chose to deploy two Aruba 8320 switches as the foundation for its utility grade wired and wireless network. “By running two switches in tandem, we would gain a fully redundant network that made failovers, whether planned or unplanned, completely undetectable by our users,” says Fahey.

“We had a very clear directive to get wireless right,” he adds. “Because everything ultimately connects back to the core of a network, a rock-solid core switch was key to fulfilling that mandate.”

10Gig for today, up to 100Gig for tomorrow 

To support wire-speed Gigabit Wi-Fi, Nazareth was in the process of upgrading its backbone connections to 10Gbps. This made the 8230 switch a natural fit. “It provided us the number of high-speed ports we needed right out of the box,” Fahey says.

The switch is easily scalable up to 100Gbps as we adopt more bandwidth-hungry applications, such as augmented and virtual reality for immersing students in subjects such as biology and engineering.

“In addition to positioning us for the Wi-Fi traffic needs of the future, we’re also in the process of upgrading our HPE Synergy blade servers, so we’re also using the 8320’s capability to handle a 40Gbps fiber connection to our servers right now,” Fahey says.

Standardizing on Aruba Wi-Fi Indoors and Out

For Wi-Fi, Nazareth had also struggled with its legacy deployment. “Previously, we had two Wi-Fi vendors,” says Uelses. “Over time, it became increasingly inefficient to troubleshoot and administer.”

During the wireless evaluation phase, Nazareth’s IT staff replaced the most troublesome existing classroom access point with an Aruba AP. “The next morning the teacher for that classroom made a note of saying ‘wow the Wi-Fi is fast today,’” Uelses says.

“It was like flipping a switch,” he continues. “When all of the connectivity problems we’d experienced in that room vanished, we knew Aruba Wi-Fi was the right choice.”

Outdoor Wi-Fi boosts safety and security

Nazareth also extended Aruba’s Wi-Fi outdoors for the first time as a critical component of its security strategy and to support a new emergency preparedness app. Almost the entire perimeter of each school, which includes playgrounds, parking lots, sport fields, a stadium and an environmental center are now covered with outdoor Wi-Fi.

“We wanted to ensure that our faculty and staff were able to communicate outdoors and use our response tool NaviGate Prepared which enables us to quickly determine who is accounted for and who isn’t during an emergency,” explains Uelses.

From a safety perspective, Nazareth now has a holistic preparedness strategy in place.

“We’ve issued iPads to our substitute teachers, as they didn’t always have a device compatible with NaviGate,” Uelses explains. “Now everyone gets to their assigned rallying points quickly and stays in communication via the Wi-Fi.

“We’ve had multiple successful drills,” he continues. “We’re very pleased with Aruba’s role in helping us ensure everyone is accounted for.”

Utility Grade Wi-Fi that just works

When Nazareth deployed its new Wi-Fi, the benefits were immediately apparent.

“We rolled out 1600 new Chromebooks right after we implemented our new wired and wireless network,” Uelses says. “In return, we heard crickets. There were no complaints.”

Nazareth credits the load balancing intelligence embedded in Aruba’s Wi-Fi as a contributor to this success. “Aruba’s Mobility Master balances device and data loads automatically,” Fahey says. The only thing our users experience is excellent performance because it all happens completely in the background.”

Foundation Care: highly responsive, specialized tech support

Nazareth’s technical support experience has been equally impressive.

“We prefer to be hands-on with our deployments,” explains Fahey. “Aruba’s documentation is well written and the syntax from wired to wireless is consistent, making it easy to transition between them.”

“I’ve only needed to call support twice since we began to deploy,” he adds. “Each time I reached an engineer very quickly and they provided immediate answers. It’s been a great experience.”

Exceptional Wi-Fi Powers Classroom Innovation

Today, Nazareth’s teaching, learning and school safety are all significantly improved.

“In our classrooms, teachers are now confident that the Wi-Fi works,” says Uelses. “As a result, we’re definitely seeing them evolve their curricula to include new innovations and engagement options.” For example, teachers are using Google Expeditions VR Classroom kits to integrate virtual reality technology into their classroom and traditional computer labs have been converted into Affinity Rooms where students use Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Robotics, Stop Motion Animation and Coding.

There is a heavy focus on STEAM related activities and project-based learning. To support academic learning and student growth, teachers are also using technology in innovative ways by providing students with experiences in coding, robotics, virtual and augmented reality. Finally, teachers are transitioning from a traditional delivery of curriculum and knowledge with the use of textbooks to creating digital curricula that students can access through Schoology.

“At the district level, having high-performance Wi-Fi is enabling us to adopt more and more cloud-based solutions for teaching, learning and administration,” he adds.”

Next Up: IoT and More

With its future-ready Wi-Fi in place, Nazareth also plans to securely address mounting IoT requests.

“Our facilities management staff is looking forward to the efficiencies they’ll gain by adding building automation and access systems to our IT network,” says Uelses. “Plus, there are opportunities for implementing IoT based teaching and learning solutions in our classrooms.

For the advanced data security required for IoT, Nazareth is adopting Aruba’s ClearPass Policy Management solution. “We expect ClearPass will help us provide streamlined and secure connectivity for IoT, BYOD and guest device access.”

Most importantly, Nazareth is keen to enhance student success in new ways. “Digital curricula and mobile experiences are here to stay,” says Uelses. “Our new network enables us to provide a safe environment that supports our teachers and learners for years to come.”