Residence Hall Network Issues
With the proliferation of personal mobile consumer devices, commonly known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), maintaining an agile residential hall network is a challenging endeavor. Consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets, wireless printers, gaming devices, DVRs etc, all have an impact to the residential hall network. Ensuring adequate capacity, performance, and security while maintaining ease of use is a moving target as technology continually evolves.
Since the initial installation of the wireless network in the residential halls, we have witnessed the following trends:
- Wireless is no longer a convenience, but a necessity. A common user experience from building to building across campus is expected.
- An average student today arrives with 2-4 wireless devices today.
- In the past three years, the number of concurrent users doubled each year. This year we peaked at 4,100 users!
- Bandwidth to the Internet has been increased in excess of 400% to support increased usage such as video streaming.
In our annual survey conducted during April 2011, the students indicated that wireless connectivity in the Residence Halls was unacceptable. Based on the data that we had, it was determined that we simply didn’t have enough coverage and capacity with the existing wireless infrastructure to support the rapid increase in devices. During the summer, we installed hundreds of new Access Points offering significant performance advantages and increased capacity. By March 2012, wireless was expanded to provide 100% coverage within fraternities.
During the first part of the Fall semester, we experienced a type of “perfect storm” with our network infrastructure. By upgrading the wireless technology, the increased performance exposed other parts of the networking infrastructure requiring attention. A new Internet firewall was implemented for campus and unfortunately caused so many issues that we reverted back to our old equipment. Then Apple released a Lion OS update which had a number of compatibility issues with PerunaNet in the residence halls. After a few days of troubleshooting, the configuration steps were published to help resolve connection issues with these machines. Towards the end of the semester, network connectivity seemed stable.
There are multiple devices involved in the path providing connectivity from the device to the internet. OIT has a number of reporting and monitoring tools on many of these devices to alert us of potential problems. Unfortunately, the problems were spread over multiple devices and did not trigger the alert threshold for any one device! A few students contacted the help desk indicating problems. However, we did not receive enough reports or enough details to alert us that the issue was widespread. Until we surveyed the Residence Hall students, we were unaware that the performance of the Residence Hall network was so poor.
Since that initial survey, we have analyzed the traffic through every piece of equipment in its path. We made a number of changes to the network infrastructure and addressed several problems. Although our work is not complete, we are relieved to hear that the overall performance for the students has improved dramatically. This problem has also invoked several discussions about the current configuration of the Residence Hall network.
The configuration and security requirements of the network were established years ago when most residents were simply connecting a computer to the network. With the proliferation of other consumer devices such as wireless printers, phones, gaming devices, DVRs etc, these security requirements are being re-evaluated. We will hold a student forum this month and have asked for volunteers to participate in these discussions. We will gather feedback from this group on improvement opportunities with the infrastructure and the support services. Our goal is to provide a stable and secure environment that will also support the needs of the residents. We will share the feedback and our action plans to ensure that improvements are made.