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2 Silicon Valley Colleges Deploy High Performance Wireless Networks

Silicon Valley's San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College have implemented a new high-performance wireless network from Meru Networks, turning every indoor space on campus into a "wireless hot zone" for Internet access. Meru and its integrator partner, San Jose-based AdvanTel Networks, won a competitive request for proposal (RFP) against Cisco and Aruba Networks.

Until the fall of 2008, students at the two colleges, which are both part of the same district, had limited wireless and wired access to the Internet and the student network within district grounds. As student laptop use increased, unused plug-in ports became scarce. The district determined that expanding the wired network would have been costly in terms of cabling and installation, and the existing network lacked some needed capabilities for student collaboration and document-sharing.

The San Jose/Evergreen Community College District decided in 2008 to deploy a wireless LAN across all its facilities to create an "open to everyone" network that would accommodate the district's 20,000 students plus guests. The Meru WLAN covers the two college campuses (approximately 10 miles apart) and the district administration offices adjacent to the Evergreen site, while preventing unauthorized access from parking lots and other public areas on campus.

"Our key requirements were that the [wireless local area network] provide excellent coverage anywhere on campus and be easy to manage," said Tom Onwiler, acting CTO for IT services and support. "We wanted every indoor location on campus to be a 'wireless hot zone.' Meru's single-channel approach was different from everyone else's. Due to its superior signal strength, we were able to reach our coverage goal with far fewer Meru access points than we would have needed from other vendors--even with the concrete-block construction of many of our buildings. In fact, certain other vendors proposed five times the number of APs to do the same job."

Dieanne Smith, account manager at AdvanTel Networks, said, "With Meru we were able to propose far fewer APs to support the same coverage. Because all Meru [access points] (APs) are deployed on a single [radio frequency] channel, they can operate at maximum signal power without causing co-channel interference. With other vendors, adjacent APs are on different channels and typically must have their power turned down to avoid causing such interference. Because signal strength is reduced, that approach requires many more APs to cover the same area."

Onwiler said the network was quick to install. "And Meru's antenna technology makes it easy to control where the signal goes," he added. "We can dynamically adjust signal direction from the AP so we're keeping signals inside the buildings and not sending them into the parking lot, where a hacker could get onto the network and launch a denial-of-service attack."

The district uses about 200 Meru AP311 access points, each including one 802.11n radio and one 802.11a/b/g radio (software-upgradeable to 11n); MC1000 controllers provide management for all access points.

Since the student wireless network is intended to be "wide open," Onwiler said--and because it is completely physically separated from the wired administrative network--password-protected sign-ins for specific applications (such as Moodle, Blackboard, and Datatel ActiveCampus) and software to block downloading of copyrighted materials are deemed sufficient security mechanisms for the WLAN.

The district's two campuses serve 20,000 students.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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