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As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the educational system, the resulting shift to remote and hybrid learning models placed unprecedented demands on school networks. Many schools scrambled to undertake complex wireless network upgrades that could handle the changes.
At Doane University, Nebraska's oldest private college, the shift to remote and hybrid learning led to the replacement of its older Cisco Systems wireless network system with Aruba's Edge Services Platform (ESP). The conversion enabled the academic institution to improve network performance, simplify network management and connect its approximately 2,500 students and 500 faculty members and staff.
Founded in 1872, Doane University operates a main campus in Crete comprises 21 buildings, including six residence halls that house 800 students. Satellite campuses located in Lincoln and Omaha complement the main university grounds.
In the fall of 2020, before its wireless network upgrade began, Doane University saw its shift to remote and hybrid learning cause a major strain on its Cisco network. The network system had been in use since 2007 and connected to more than 125 access points across campus. As more traffic competed for limited network bandwidth, fluctuating response times and inconsistent network access became an issue for students and staff, according to Ryan Dorshorst, director of IT operations at Doane University.
A rapid network deployment
In November 2020, Doane University made plans to quarantine and test all students for COVID-19 during the first week of the second semester, which started Jan. 4. Until then, the university held a mix of in-person and remote classes but would need to go fully remote during the quarantine period. "We knew that our existing wireless network would not handle the increased traffic load gracefully," Dorshorst admitted.
Ryan DorshorstDirector of technology IT operations, Doane University
The university needed a wireless network upgrade -- and quickly, he said.
The university planned its upgrade to roll out in two phases. The first, six-week phase would serve the students' academic needs. The second phase, scheduled for later in the year, would fully replace its existing network and rewire its administrative systems.
To execute phase one, the university had to select a new networking system, procure the equipment and install it in the six-week timeframe, which would be interrupted by year-end holidays.
Doane University decided to partner with a reseller partner to oversee the deployment, according to Dorshorst.
Supply chain issues eliminated some competitors. "In certain cases, product delivery was 58 days out, which obviously would not meet our deadlines," he noted.
DataVizion, a managed services provider based in Lincoln, emerged as a contender. The MSP serves more than 600 customers -- mainly, midmarket firms in the healthcare and education industries -- according to Mike Patrick, account manager at DataVizion. DataVizion's vendor relationships include Aruba Networks for network equipment, Hewlett Packard Enterprise for computer hardware and Palo Alto Networks for security products.
Doane University selected DataVizion's bid because its IT solution was priced competitively and met the strict delivery deployment deadlines, Dorshorst said.
The phase-one rollout
The first phase of the wireless network upgrade, which provided Doane's residence halls with wireless access, was completed as planned before the start of the second semester.
By making the change, the university could test returning students for COVID-19 infections, which allowed those with negative results to return to classrooms. Other students, meanwhile, could learn remotely.
Network performance improved for academic applications. "We clearly saw a performance boost because we have both the old and the new network running," Dorshorst said. "We appreciate that DataVizion and Aruba worked with us to deploy a complex system in a short window, and the system cost half as much as we expected."
The next deployment
The phase-two execution of Doane University's wireless network upgrade is scheduled for the summer of 2021.
A high bar has been set for the project, which aims to reshape not only the campus network, but also the student learning experience, Dorshorst said. By connecting the rest of the campus to the Aruba system, the project intends to provide the following benefits:
- The deployment of Aruba ClearPass policy management platform, which will provide a common user interface to manage the university's wired and wireless connections, is expected to streamline network management.
- Increased network visibility will provide new reports about usage, such as how much data students send over the network.
- The upgrade will enable Doane University staff to monitor the network from any location without a virtual private network connection, as well as from any device, including smartphones.
- With Aruba Access Point's built-in Bluetooth and Zigbee support, the university will be able to extend visibility into building endpoints, such as lights, thermostats and heating units.