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Liberty U Mobilizes 802.11n Wireless Network

Liberty University has upgraded the WiFi network at its 5,000-acre campus in Lynchburg, VA with Aruba Networks equipment. The university has 123 buildings totaling 2.9 million square feet of facilities, 42,000 local and distance-learning students, and about 2,600 full-time employees.

Prior to selecting a vendor to upgrade its WiFi network, the university staged a 36-access point Aruba network at a remote site, while new networks from its incumbent supplier were tested at two residence halls. Aruba's solution was determined to be technically superior, and the university subsequently purchased an Aruba 802.11n WiFi network and AirWave Wireless Management Suite, also from Aruba.

The university's legacy network offered limited wireless performance and restricted user mobility, as well as problematic security. Thirty servers were required to support the university's network access control system, and it was still unable to check newer 64-bit older operating systems for updated software, requiring a new login each time a student accessed the network. The network also provided limited control over guest access.

WiFi performance issues were addressed by Aruba's Adaptive Radio Management (ARM) software, which automates site surveys and uses infrastructure-based controls to optimize the performance of WiFi clients in real-time.

Network security has been addressed by Aruba's policy-enforcement firewall (PEF), which provides identity-based security, quality of service control, and traffic management capabilities. The firewall classifies on the basis of user identity, device type, location, and time of day and provides differentiated access for different classes of users. Guest access is controlled with respect to bandwidth consumed and the applications and resources that can be accessed.

Threat assessment, policy decision making, and corralling of unmanaged devices are accomplished by Aruba's Endpoint Compliance System (ECS). Unmanaged devices typically include transient devices such as PCs, PDAs, and Apple iPhones owned by users and not under the management of the university's IT staff. Working in conjunction with the Aruba firewall, ECS implements network access control policies to detect, quarantine, blacklist, and remediate out-of-compliance devices. This approach to policy enforcement ensures that devices connecting to the network comply with the university's operating system, anti-virus, anti-spyware, and software patch revision requirements. ECS also integrates with intrusion detection and prevention devices on the wired network, detects malicious activity, and blacklists users.

"WiFi performance and security both improved significantly as a direct result of ARM, PEF, and ECS," said Bruce Osborne, the university's wireless network engineer. "ARM technology allowed us to field a highly reliable, densely-deployed 802.11n network without any surveys or manual tweaking, saving significant time and expense. Aruba's PEF cordons off guests from our main network, and a policy acceptance log-in page makes quick work of guest access. The new ECS solution requires just four servers, and students need to log-in only once per semester instead of once per session. ECS uses the Microsoft update agent to determine the latest requirements, and unlike our legacy network access control system, 64-bit clients are fully supported. Taken together these new features have simplified life for students, faculty, guests, and the IT staff."

Currently 550 new 802.11n access points have been deployed, and both the WiFi and network access control systems continue to be expanded. The remote site at which the university piloted an Aruba network is now running as an all-wireless workplace.

Moving forward the university said it expects to deploy Video Furnace multicast IP television on its new 802.11n network.

"With our legacy network we were locked into the same vendor for switches, NAC, WiFi, and support," said Osborne. "This limited our options with respect to features, performance, and price. In contrast, the Aruba gear is interoperable with infrastructure products on the market, freeing us to select switches and other devices based on criteria defined by Liberty University. The resulting network is tailored to our exact needs."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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