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Back-to-school IT projects reshape campus life

Technology shifts are shaking up IT priorities in colleges and universities

By , Network World
August 20, 2010 06:07 AM ET

Network World - The top back-to-school IT projects at 10 colleges and universities show a tidal wave of change in higher education. Many of the changes could presage broader shifts in enterprise and consumer technology.

Not surprisingly, wireless is fast becoming the default network connection for campus users, who typically own between two and four wireless-enabled mobile devices. At the same time, virtualization and growth in cloud-based services are centralizing and offloading IT functions. These changes, coupled with soaring video traffic, are triggering bandwidth upgrades at all levels.

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As students begin to populate campuses around the world, we're tracking six major areas of technology change.

1. 802.11n and all-wireless access

802.11n Wi-Fi campus deployments are growing and increasingly eliminating wired wall jacks and switch ports. (See also: Is it time to cut the Ethernet access cable?

University of North Texas in Denton took the 11n plunge, replacing a "hodge-podge" of 11b and 11g access points with about 250-300 11n access points from Aruba Networks, says Joe Adamo, senior director of communications services at UNT.

Schools with 11n already deployed are seeing big changes. Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., recently renovated four dorms, offering only 11n wireless connectivity for students. "We've seen an abandonment of the wired infrastructure [by users]," says John Turner, Brandeis' director of networks and systems. The estimated cost for rewiring the four buildings was $200,000. The final cost of the Aruba Networks WLAN deployment for the four buildings? Less than $80,000.

Morrisville State College in Morrisville, New York (site of the first large-scale 802.11n wireless LAN, built with Meru Networks gear) is likewise is making wireless the default network access in all new or rehabbed dorms and classrooms.

"That's a huge shift in IT's historical thinking," says Jean Boland, the college's vice president for administrative services and IT.

With its fully deployed, campus-wide 802.11n WLAN, based on equipment from Aruba Networks and Xirrus, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh this year deactivated all the 100Mbps wired jacks in all campus dorms, putting an end to the "one per pillow" access that has been a higher education standard for over a decade. Students can request that a wired jack be activated (and all requests will be granted).

"We'll never get rid of the wired infrastructure in the residence halls," says Dan McCarriar, CMU director, network and production services. "But if I can eliminate some switches, we can keep down infrastructure costs and realize some power savings."

2. The rising tide of mobile devices

Many incoming freshmen students this year have more than one mobile device. Laptops plus smartphones (or a Wi-Fi-only device such as the Apple iPod touch), and in some cases wireless game controllers, are a typical combination. Apple's iPad tablet is popping up on nearly every campus, heralding a new type of mobile device.

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