Latest Upgrades for the Residence Hall Network
Towards the end of the semester, our network group met with the vendor of our wireless controllers to discuss in depth the networking challenges in the Residence Halls. Through extensive investigation and discussion, we identified a few steps that could help improve the service. We worked diligently over the winter break to complete as many of the items as we possibly could before the students returned for the Spring.
- New Wireless controller installed: We purchased the latest and greatest model of wireless controllers running the newest version of code. Typically we do not like to adopt the newest version of code as it usually has some bugs to work through. However, we went forward with this version as the vendors felt it would address many of our concerns. The new controller was installed on January 12.
- New core router installed: A new core router was installed which can support 10gbps connections thus allowing more throughput overall. The residence hall network connections were migrated to this new router on January 13 and the connection speed was upgraded to 10Gbps.
At this point, the team has reviewed every piece of equipment providing network connectivity to the Residence Halls. We’ve upgraded or updated every item and eliminated equipment that was no longer needed. Are are seeing some improvement this semester; however, we are also seeing some performance issues related to the new controller. We have engaged the technical engineers for our wireless equipment and are working quickly to resolve this issue. We know there are still several obstacles to overcome.
During our investigation, it became clear that although we are providing enough bandwidth to support the data, the airwaves are becoming completely saturated due to the number of devices on the wireless network. In addition to the increase in devices, more and more people are accessing streaming media (such as Netflix) which increases the demands on the network and on the internet capacity. This is not an uncommon problem! So the challenge is to figure out how to best manage the airwaves without restricting devices on the network.
Another challenge we have is to provide a wireless connection that is secure but accommodate devices designed for home/consumer use. Many of the devices available for consumers (gaming devices, digital picture frames, etc) do not support WPA with 802.1x authentication. When we selected this protocol years ago, we choose it because it offered the highest level of security. Although it is still the preferred method for secure connections, we are evaluating other options to accommodate these various devices.
We also face the challenge of supporting the integration functionality between various devices which are designed for a home network. An example is Air Play with the Apple Devices. This technology requires that all the devices are located on the same subnet in order to “talk” to each other. Our current network design does not accommodate that configuration. We are evaluating a solution that would enable this functionality without completely overhauling the network configuration.
Finally, we are working on a proposal to address the cell phone coverage issues across campus. Although this is not directly connected, many users are connected to the Wi-Fi on their cellular devices as their carrier signal does not reach within the buildings. If we can resolve the cell phone coverage issues, those devices could connect to the cell towers and free up connections to the Wi-Fi. The cell phone coverage issue is campus wide and the solution is a multi-year project. However, plans are underway to provide a solution as quickly as we can.
We will continue to develop and architect our network to provide a secure and reliable service to the campus. We appreciate your patience and your feedback as issues arise. Please remember to report any wireless problems to us so we can better diagnose and resolve the issue.