Managing the largest 802.11n deployment

* University of Minnesota taps Entuity platform to manage its wired and ever-growing wireless networks

Planning to build out the largest 802.11n wireless deployment required the network team at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul to also have in place a management platform that could cover potentially 9,500 access points spread across 300 buildings while also keeping an eye on the wired net.

Currently at 1,600 Trapeze Networks' access points, the university began the initiative to create the largest 802.11n deployment to address and support students' mobility and network connectivity needs. Yet with 85,000 ports on the predominantly Cisco network, the educational institution also needed to ensure the additional wireless wouldn't wreak havoc on the wired net or cause staff more labor than necessary to simultaneously maintain the two environments. Fortunately, the network team says, Entuity won an RFP process about five years ago and the vendor's Eye of the Storm management platform continues to serve the mixed environment well.

“Although the primary objective of the wireless upgrade project was to provide fast, flexible and secure wireless access to our user community, it needed to be done in a way that was complementary to our existing infrastructure and would not introduce new maintenance headaches," says Louis Hammond, Director of Design and Operations Networking and Telecommunications Services, University of Minnesota Office of Information Technology. "Managing the new wireless environment in our existing network management solution, Eye of the Storm, allows us to leverage existing processes and expertise giving us economies of acquisition, deployment, operation, and ongoing maintenance.”

One of the Big Ten schools, U of M has the fourth largest student body in the United States, serving more than 80,000 people across the 1,204 acres of the U of M Twin Cities campus (in Minneapolis and Saint Paul). The challenge with a network of this size is getting a product scalable enough and with adequate processing power to go out and query tens of thousands of devices and ports at a speed the keeps data relevant, says Mike Faust, network design engineer at the university.

"You really need a management platform that is lightweight enough to do those things without impacting network performance but that is also capable of not only polling that number of devices but also storing and analyzing all that data," Faust says.

From the wireless perspective, Eye queries equipment and asks for status updates, reporting back the network devices it sees. When it receives an asynchronous message from the devices, it will forward those details to the university's ticketing system. The software shows congestion, throughput statistics and speeds, and provides information on how many users are connected wirelessly and from where - which helps provide security considering the university prefers to keep the wireless network "mostly open" to best support students.

"Entuity also relieves our requirement to send staff members to the site to inspect access points," Hammond adds, pointing to Eye's centralized management platform as a time-saver that eliminates the need for network managers to log on to multiple consoles to retrieve information.

Hammond also appreciates that the software is able to point out potentially overbooked access points that helps his team better provision floor space and plan for adequate wireless services to serve the end-user population.

Faust goes on to explain that the product provides scalable access to between 40 and 50 IT staffers that are authorized to use Eye. He says the flexibility in how the software can be accessed and used to gather and view information also helps keep multiple teams up-to-date on network performance.

"It is important for us to have a single interface for our monitoring people whenever looking at the network," Faust adds, saying that Entuity worked with Trapeze to ensure the vendors' products would integrate seamlessly on the customer premises.

Going forward, Entuity estimates the university could also realize more than $2 million in total annual utility costs at 100% compliance by tapping the vendors Green IT Perspective module

"There is the potential for us to start tracking servers and how they interact and we are evaluating what kind of energy savings we can get for the university in the future," Hammond says.

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