Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wireless Networking - Planning Shift

I'm working on how I will explain the wireless network expectations shift to my campus.  The following story is where I am starting.

Wireless networking was first implemented around 2000 as a service to fill gaps in locations that were underserved by wired networks, especially in the Residence Halls.  In early 2003, we developed a campus-wide wireless network plan. In 2003-2005, we completed expansions into Dodge Hall, Kresge Library, Pawley Hall and Elliott Hall.  By 2006, funding for expanding the wireless network was not available.  All funds were used to refresh or maintain the existing wireless network.  A proposal was submitted and approved for a base budget increase in June 2006.  This enabled a campus wireless network that met the requirements of coverage and roaming.  The wireless culture moved from a “gap provisioning” to a “coverage provisioning” model.  We stilled viewed the wireless network as a convenience and not the main business network, and security was handled to that lower standard.

Culture shift:
Today’s community expects shows a culture shift:
  •  Wireless must meet a standard of preferred access point, as a primary network, not just a convenience network.  The standard expects a client who is using the wireless for primary work, and not just for roaming access.
  • As a result, the current wireless network technology provider is no longer meeting service expectations, for us or other clients.   
  • Density to handle volume is expected, not just coverage.  We have an increasing number of requests, for example, for an entire classroom to access the same resources on the wireless at the same time.  Students are carrying more devices that connect, such as a smartphone and a tablet at the same time.  This translates into greater density, which means more wireless access points are needed in a space, and more capacity for traffic is required on the network backbone.
  • Those using Internet Native Banner are increasingly asking for the security to access Banner on the campus wireless network.  That capability is not currently available.  As departments buy more tablets and devices that do not have wired connections, we soon expect this to be a wireless network service requirement.
  • There are more requests for guest access, particularly for events.  This is currently in review with legal.  If we open the network to the community, that just puts more traffic burden on the network and increases the need for greater density.
  • The vision is “stadium density.”  Imagine 60,000 fans showing up at the Super Bowl, as happened this year, and all expecting to connect to the wireless network to access the same resources at approximately the same time.  While we likely will not have to match this standard, this is the vision we need to keep in mind.

Action Steps:
UTS completed a Request for Information from all key wireless vendors.  Based on the vendor responses, several vendors were invited to temporarily implement their product in the Oakland Center.  The results showed two product vendors met university requirements.  An RFP will soon be released to obtain pricing from those vendors.

Under the current university funding model, we will be able to annually replace 20 to 25% of the wireless footprint, as it existed in 2006.  We expect the new Engineering Building to be the first building with "stadium dense" wireless, meeting the community's expectation for wireless, and funded with the building fund. 

We do not have funding to accelerate the wireless network technology shift, including changing to a more robust platform and installing additional wireless access points.  We do not have funding for a technology refresh in the Human Health Building in 2017-2018.   The result will be a growing gap between the provisioned level of wireless network service and the service level expectations of students, faculty, and staff using the wireless network.