By Stuart Chase & Andrew Carr
For many educational institutions, it is probably a familiar story. Although an existing solution is not meeting expectations, fiscal constraints prevent immediately replacing it with a new one.
Such was the case when we first adopted Aruba’s Wi-Fi at Mount Saint Vincent University. As we were unable to pursue a forklift upgrade to replace our incumbent wireless, we chose to establish a separate Aruba WLAN in our residences halls for Fall 2017 using 802.11ac Wave 2-enabled access points.
Fast forward to today, Fall 2018: the performance of the Wi-Fi network in residences had raised the expectations across campus, and students and faculty wanted to see the wireless work just as well everywhere on campus. Due to this demand, and with excellent support from our local Aruba team, we were able to replace the access points in all of our instructional spaces for the September start of classes. A few outlying buildings remain to be upgraded, and then we will be Aruba wireless across campus.
Fast deployment nets immediate results
In anticipation of the campus-wide expansion, we recently upgraded to ArubaOS 8, the backbone of Aruba’s Mobile First Platform, along with adopting Mobility Conductor, which provides a centralized view of the network.
Among the good things we’d heard about ArubaOS 8, we looked forward to the operating system’s multiple streamlining and automation advantages. It all proved true from the outset.
Deploying the solution was simple. Adopting ArubaOS 8 was simple. It took less than a day during our February break to install and roll out the new operating system. This included setting up and configuring two new VMware-virtualized servers from scratch.
Load balancing headaches? Gone.
The deployment included adopting Mobility Conductor for clustering our two 7210 Mobility Controllers. In addition to improving resiliency, clustering gains us automated user and AP load balancing. In the days following the launch, we logged-in to the dashboard and literally watched the controllers rebalance depending upon the bandwidth demands at any given moment.
Automated user and AP load balancing is expected to become even more critical for seamless experiences once we’ve completed our transition. That’s because our traffic changes dramatically throughout the course of a day. When students are on campus, the majority of our utilization comes from academic buildings then, in the evenings, it flips.
Additionally, like most universities, our traffic demands shift between buildings, as well as within building spaces. With automated load balancing, we no longer worry about manually rebalancing – or exceeding the capacity of a controller when traffic changes unexpectedly. It’s a potential headache we avoid altogether.
Today, ArubaOS 8 capabilities are making excellent residence experiences even better while also reducing help desk calls. With AirMatch automatically optimizing RF, in combination with Mobility Conductor’s other automation features, we’ve seen a 90 percent drop in complaints. For the few complaints that do come in, it’s typically a device issue rather than our Wi-Fi.
From APs to IoT, it’s all streamlined, simplified and optimized
Yet another benefit of ArubaOS 8 is the re-designed UI and hierarchical architecture. The former enables visualizing our network with amazing granularity. This includes effects of network changes, which is tremendously useful for staging our Wi-Fi transition, as well as testing routine adjustments to determine impacts.
Granularity and visibility also will enable us to quickly fine-tune bandwidth allocation using AppRF, such as by limiting consumption in the hallways, to boost classroom experiences. Identifying low-utilization areas and reducing bandwidth allocation accordingly will also be a cinch.
With hierarchical architecture, we can easily configure new APs by applying existing policies to new units. Beyond day-to-day replacements or upgrades, this capability is helping make our campus-wide transition plug-and-play.
Here’s how: we create containers with AP configurations and then swap out APs in a building. From the UI, we drag the building into a container and the information automatically propagates. It’s that simple.
As we move forward, we’re also keen on multiple other features such as Live Upgrade. This will free us from the traditional process of delaying updates until the next academic recess. Not only a huge plus operationally, immediate updating enables us to apply security responses far more rapidly than before.
To support our IoT strategy we’re also considering the opportunities supplied by Mobility Conductor’s MultiZone feature. As MultiZone creates multi-tenant networks, using the same APs, we can establish one or more separate environments to help us manage and secure the expanding wave of the student, research and operational IoT devices.
Turning night into day
Once we’ve completed our Wi-Fi transition, which includes adopting Aruba’s 2930F Series and 5400R Series switches, our comprehensive solution will be greater than the sum of its parts. Among other reasons, it’s because we can leverage Dynamic Segmentation.
This means our network can be automatically segmented based on device profiles with traffic diverted from selected devices to our controllers for further inspection and policy enforcement. For example, if a user’s device contains unapproved software it would allow us to spot the potential fire and extinguish it before it becomes a wildfire.
We’re also looking forward to increasing our utilization of Clarity within AirWave. We’re already experiencing some of the benefits from proactively monitoring non-RF metrics, like the time it takes to gather an IP address through DHCP, to improve user experiences. Clarity’s a great tool for helping us identify and resolve potential issues before they impact experiences.
In a nutshell, the combination of innovations in our Aruba WLAN, including ArubaOS 8, provides us with considerably enhanced capabilities to diagnose, understand and fix issues far beyond what we had before. It's literally like night and day.
Fired up and ready to go
Looking back over the history of mobility on our campus, when we first introduced Wi-Fi some professors had significant reservations. They even asked us to block wireless because they viewed it as a distraction.
Today, it’s the complete opposite. Professors are saying, “I need really good wireless in my classrooms because I’m requiring my students to review content from news media.” Or, “My Wi-Fi is integral to my class because I’m going to engage students via feedback apps.”
That’s why we’re so excited about our complete Aruba solution. We can supply the positive experiences everyone is requesting with such improved automation it gives us time to be proactive on other mission-critical projects. It’s a big win for the Mount and for us.