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Case Study: Santa Clara U. graduates to Gigabit Wi-Fi

College doubles the number of Cisco access points, gains significant performance boost

By Julie Sartain, Network World
February 03, 2014 05:38 AM ET
Gigabit wifi
Credit: Wikimedia

Network World - In 2006, Santa Clara University began rolling out a Wi-Fi network as a way to supplement the school's existing production network. The initial deployment consisted of about 800 Cisco Aironet 1131 a/b/g/ access points and Cisco WiSM controllers. As expansion or renovation projects occurred, the school added some 802.11n access points, but until recently 90% of the roughly 70 buildings on campus were equipped with the older, slower technology.

Todd Schmitzer, network and telecommunications manager at SCU, says the original Wi-Fi network was designed to provide expanded ‘convenience’ access to the campus network from academic, administrative, and residence hall locations. It was never intended as a production network or the sole mechanism for people to access the campus network. It did not cover all locations (only the common occupied spaces), did not provide for high-density use (classrooms, theaters, dining halls), or provide nearly the bandwidth of the wired network.

Over time, usage grew from 3,000 unique devices/users in 2007 to more than 15,000 unique devices/users in 2012. And at peak times, simultaneous use went from 2,000 users to more than 5,000 users. In addition, "usage has shifted from convenience to production and, in many cases; it’s now the primary network for many end users," says Schmitzer.

The school was now facing the issue of how best to upgrade the Wi-Fi network. "We debated whether it made more sense to initially install access points with 802.11ac or install access points that could later be expanded to include the newest standards,” says Ronald Danielson, CIO and Information Services vice provost at SCU. Going with 802.11n "would initially save money, while still providing a significant boost in performance," says Danielson.

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On the other hand,  "There weren’t many mobile devices shipping with 802.11ac, but we expected that would ramp up rapidly, and that many of our clients would soon have 802.11ac-compatible devices (perhaps as soon as Christmas 2013, but certainly by 2014). Couple that with the disruption to the campus caused by having to go back out in a year or two and touch each of the installed APs to upgrade to 802.11ac, we decided that installing 802.11ac at the beginning was the right way to go."

Schmitzer notes that they immediately decided that the new network should cover all of the campus (interior and exterior), that all locations should support the high bandwidth demands for multimedia rich communications and academic applications (including voice and two-way video). It was a requirement that both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios would be used and that the design should ensure adequate coverage to provide low latency and jitter free transmission in the 5-GHz radio frequencies.

“The 802.11ac was not initially a requirement of the plan or design,” says Schmitzer, “But since 802.11ac utilizes the same frequencies as initially planned for, our design easily accommodated 802.11ac. Given our goal to install a superior and, now, primary Wi-Fi network, we felt that 802.11ac provided a significant enhancement to all our new requirements: high density use, higher bandwidth, and improved access.”

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