So for six months, starting during the school year late last year, Howard and his team set about ripping and replacing all elements of the wireless and wired LAN, as well as the pipes between buildings and out to the Internet. He says, only half-jokingly, that because school was in session, it was like being a magician who pulls the tablecloth off of a table without upsetting the dinner plates.
One of the team's first initiatives was to increase the coverage and density of the wireless LAN. The 802.11 a/b/g access points had been clustered so much that they were starting to experience diminishing returns, suffering interference and other scaling issues.
The new wireless LAN has to serve students equally well indoors and out. The IT team upgraded to 802.11n access points, which are capable of supporting 30 to 40 clients each, compared with 20 to 30 for the old access points, and installed 60% more access points campuswide — eliminating the access point bottlenecks in a single stroke.
The move also cut maintenance costs by 30%. "As the national conversation plays out about college affordability, this matters greatly by helping us maintain affordable tuition," Howard says.
Next, the Armstrong team focused on the network switches and pipes between buildings, bumping them from 100Mbps to 1Gbps to handle the increased traffic from the new wireless access points.
Expecting demand to continue its current trajectory, IT built in enough headroom in on-premises gear and with the school's Internet service to support demand for the next three to five years. "We're not at 10Gbps levels yet, but we could get there and we are ready," Howard says.
In addition, IT is evaluating 802.11ac access points, which boast gigabit speeds for wireless connections, as an option for the next three-year refresh.
Opening the floodgates on the pipes is one part of Howard's road map; the other is using caching to reduce back-and-forth traffic. For instance, caching would be a big help with Microsoft's Patch Tuesday, which can strain the network as each device tries to download software patches and updates. Instead of clogging the Internet connection, users could grab what they need from a cache on local servers.
At the same time, the university is committed to moving as many administrative and student services to the cloud as possible, including the main ERP and student management systems.
Mobile and cloud computing often are the first interaction points that prospective students, faculty and staff have with the university. "Access drives enrollment, research funding and graduation rates. Being able to easily access applications from a 4-inch device and/or the cloud gives us a competitive advantage," Howard says.
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