Illinois State University discusses what’s needed to support thousands of devices; faculty collaboration

mobile-network-illinoisA new network is helping one university connect more than 30,000 mobile and wireless devices to boost collaboration in academic programs.

Illinois State University, which has begun deployment of a campus-wide Aruba 802.11ac-based network, says the gigabit Wi-Fi infrastructure will help securely connect the mobile and wireless devices being used on campus and allow faculty to incorporate a wide range of education technologies.

The implementation began as a response to complaints about coverage—a similar problem facing many institutions across the country.

Illinois State’s Administrative Technologies department had been receiving complaints about their existing network’s coverage, reliability and speed, especially in sections of the campus with extreme device density.

“Some students today are bringing up to five mobile and wireless devices each onto campus,” Johnston said. “From laptops, tablets and smartphones to televisions, Blu-ray players, gaming systems and printers, there is truly an explosion of devices trying to access the network. Our students expect their devices to work anywhere on campus, and to work as well as they do on their home networks.”

“One of the main issues was quality control,” explained Ryan Johnston, interim director of Infrastructure, Operations and Networking for Illinois State. “We had to revert back to older versions of code and we were not able to run the latest version of code due to that. So we were looking to go to a vendor that had a little more stable code base to work from. We needed a reliable vendor that had reliable support.”

In order to address those concerns and improve network access for students, faculty, staff and guests, Illinois State decided to replace its Meru Networks wireless infrastructure with an upgrade. After a thorough review of options, including Aruba and Cisco, Illinois State selected Aruba’s 802.11ac solution, considering the solution’s ability to handle increasingly high device density and quickly authenticate device connections on a multi-vendor network, said the University.

The University will migrate to the new Aruba infrastructure over the next three years.

(Next page: Implementation benefits faculty, too)

An explosion of devices and high student expectations for connectivity reflect findings from a survey that Aruba conducted on #GenMobile that found that 64 percent of student respondents reported that they own three or more connected devices.

Knowing that meeting student-driven expectations for mobile collaboration were key to successful implementation, Illinois State has run tests to gain student feedback on the new infrastructure. “We engaged our School of Information Technology on our campus,” Johnston said. “We wanted to really know what the experience was like, and we can go in and test it ourselves, but the student experience is really what can make or break it. We asked the department’s students who use mobile devices frequently to…run their own tests with their own equipment and then come back and let us know what the experience was like.”

As the system rolls out, the University will continue to get feedback to identify and correct issues with the system, as well as provide a help desk ticket system and a campus help desk that students in either the residence halls or any of the academic buildings can call at any time.

In addition to supporting student devices on campus, Aruba allows the University’s faculty to better utilize the wireless network for instruction as well as providing a more secure and manageable infrastructure, said the University.

“Our professors want to detach from the podium and move around the classroom, encouraging more collaborative work,” noted Johnston. “They want to use Apple TVs and Chromecast devices to enable students to delve deeper into course materials. Also, for our teaching program, which is well known for its focus on 21st Century teaching practices, wirelessly projecting from a tablet is a vital capability for instruction. Aruba’s AirGroup feature can allow our teachers to do this easily.”

Secure guest access was another key factor in Illinois State’s selection of Aruba. The university gets a high volume of visitors daily, including visiting faculty, conference, and event attendees that might need access to the wireless network. This new infrastructure allows for a guest system that is a separate wireless SSID where they can connect and get access to the network on a temporary basis.

Looking forward, the University expects the growth of mobile devices to continue and is confident that the new Aruba network will meet the school’s evolving needs. “Not only are we having to adapt and adjust to the environment today—students walking in with a smart phone—they increasingly also have an iPad, a laptop, a desktop, an Xbox 360, and a wireless printer. I mean, the list starts to go on, and that’s just today! We want to be able to prepare for tomorrow as well,” concluded Johnston.

Material from a press release was used in this report, written by Hayley Goodman, an editorial intern with eCampus News.

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