Thames Valley District School Board

Complete cloud-managed solution provides streamlined, high-density Wi-Fi for WLAN spread over 4,300 sq. mi.

Replacing his institution’s legacy WLAN to accommodate modern device densities also presented an operational dilemma for Stephen Young: How to efficiently manage thousands of access points spread across 4,300 square miles with a lean IT staff funded by taxpayer dollars.

“Our existing Wi-Fi used a coverage model,” explains Young, Manager of Information Technology Services for Canada’s Thames Valley District School Board. “Given the explosive growth of mobility, we needed a robust, capacity-driven, manageable network that fit our budget.”

Goals: Scalability, Reliability & Sustainability

Located in London, Ontario, the urban and rural TVDSB serves approximately 75,000 students, employs over 7,600 staff members and maintains 159 schools along with assortment of specialized facilities.

Across every grade level, TVDSB students and educators are increasingly reliant on wireless access not only for their district-issued HP laptops, but also for BYOT smartphones, tablets and IoT devices like Raspberry Pi. In addition, TVDSB is moving away from rows of classroom desks and fixed computing labs to a collaborative learning model enabled by technology.

“Our district had recently embraced Google Apps for Education, which meant Chromebooks and other devices began accessing the network,” says Phil Hicks, TVDSB’s Supervisor of Infrastructure and Operations.

“We needed a solution with the throughput capable of enabling dozens of heterogeneous devices to access Wi-Fi simultaneously in a predictable, sustainable manner,” he adds.

Aruba Instant APs + Central = Bulletproof

Working through a competitive process, TVDSB evaluated enterprise WLAN solutions and selected a local partner Access 2 Networks (A2N) and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.

We’re very pleased with our Aruba Wi-Fi and how easy Aruba Central makes it to deliver high-quality educational experiences across such a large and geographically-dispersed network.
Stephen Young, Manager of Information Technology Services, Thames Valley District School Board

After a successful pilot at an elementary school, TVDSB selected Aruba’s 802.11ac-enabled solution to meet current needs as well as prepare for greater mobile and IoT dependency. It includes approximately 6300 Aruba Instant controllerless, cloud-managed access points and Aruba Central for streamlined management, strong security and BYOT guest access.

“During the pilot, Aruba’s solution was bulletproof,” says Young. “Our IT staff found it easy to understand, configure and manage. In fact, the biggest surprise was just how easy Aruba’s offering really was to deploy and use.”

Complete, Cloud-managed Solution with Smart Analytics

With Aruba Central, organizations like TVDSB gain a simple, secure and cost-effective cloud-based enterprise tool for managing and monitoring Aruba Instant APs, switches and branch gateways. Central also includes advanced capabilities such as customizable guest Wi-Fi access and presence analytics for smarter decision-making.

Another benefit of Central, and its intuitive management dashboard, is the ability to tap into smart network, application and presence analytics to improve teacher, student, administrator and operational experiences.

“Central gives us more visibility into application usage than we had before,” Hicks says. “We’ll use it to do traffic shaping, such as giving higher priority to Google Apps for Education than social media sites.”

TVDSB also appreciates the professional reports Central generates. “We can provide our administration and Board with a variety of reports to show how our Wi-Fi benefits teachers and students as well as improves operations,” Young says.

Empowering distant teams with local control

Central’s dashboard, which can be accessed via desktop device or mobile app, also enables TVDSB to extend local control to IT technologists tasked with managing specific facilities.

“Empowering our 40 school-based techs is an advantage we couldn’t even dream of, previously,” says Hicks. “With Central, we can decide what level of visibility and management each of our techs will receive.”

Becoming proactive instead of reactive

At TVDSB, the combination of robust and reliable Instant APs, combined with Central, enables the district’s IT staff to transition away from a troubleshooting posture. Instead, using Aruba’s robust connectivity insights and business intelligence analytics, they can fine-tune performance in every educational space – whether in classrooms or very high-density areas like libraries, auditoriums and gymnasiums.

“We’re moving from spending most of our time on break/fix hardware chores to becoming more proactive by leveraging analytics to improve educational experiences for our constituents,” Young says.

Speedy, Zero-Touch Deployment

Deploying Aruba’s Instant APs has proven equally favorable. “Due to the scope of the project, we used multiple installation providers,” says Young. “By spreading the workload, we could complete the deployment faster and more efficiently.”

Using A2N to provision APs and manage the other contractors, freed the district’s IT staff to continue pursuing other critical tasks. Additionally, Central’s ability to pre-configure the network across all sites further accelerated the deployment, making the new system classroom-ready, sooner.

“Our team only needs to perform verification tasks and sign off on deployed sites,” Young says.

Benefits in the Classroom, Data Center and Beyond

According to Young, TVDSB’s Aruba solution is meeting a key initiative goal: Deploying a Wi-Fi network that performs like a utility – reliable and highly available.

Thames Valley District School Board office

Operationally, this means various types of resource savings and cost-avoidance. For example, when capacity needs change, “we can have the AP shipped to the school and a non-IT individual can just plug it in,” says Young.

Facilities maintenance personnel are also more efficient. “They pick up a work order on their district-issued mobile devices wherever they are,” Young says. “Before, they had to seek out a wireless signal.”

Minimizing costs in TVDSB’s HP-enabled data center is another benefit. “With Central, we’ve avoided adding equipment to our data center, which is already at capacity,” says Hicks.

“Managing everything from the cloud avoided running a new electrical feed or requiring more air conditioning,” he continues. “That was a real advantage for us.”

WLAN resiliency minimizes troubleshooting

Similarly, troubleshooting is eased and availability is improved due to the new WLAN’s resilience.

“If an AP goes down, we no longer need to rush a tech to a site,” Young says. “Other APs can pick up the load, without impacting our constituents, until we can arrive.”

“Considering our geographic size, this resiliency is a huge plus.” he adds.

Educational benefits abound

Most importantly, Young reports a wealth of educational benefits that support TVDSB’s commitment to high student achievement and a collaborative environment.

“Students enjoy seamless roaming throughout their buildings,” Young says. This enables participation in spontaneous learning as well as formal collaborations.

For educators, precious learning minutes are saved each day by having seamless, reliable access.

“Teachers were thrilled they could log in once and automatically connect all subsequent days,” Young adds. “And, we’ve eliminated dead spots in classrooms, providing teachers and students with connectivity everywhere.”

Next Up: Guest Access, VoWi-Fi, Web Conferencing and IoT

Moving forward, TVDSB plans to leverage a variety of advanced Central features. This includes offering secure guest access to members of the community at large, transitioning to voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) telephony and adopting web conferencing via Skype for Business or Google Hangouts.

Also on the horizon are efficiency gains from enterprise IoT. “We’ll certainly be considering ways to manage our lighting, HVAC, door openers and other systems with IoT,” Young says.

In IT, the district will evaluate Central’s edge switch management capabilities. “We previously standardized on Aruba’s 2920 switches,” says Hicks. “It makes sense to test the advantages of managing them centrally.”

Meanwhile, TVDSB’s limited IT staff can now focus on higher-value projects. “We don’t need to troubleshoot or configure technology on a day-to-day basis,” Young says. “For performance and reliability, we’re very pleased with our Aruba Wi-Fi solution, overall.”