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Eberhardt School of Business Graduates to a Higher Degree of Wireless Connectivity

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Founded in 1851, the University of the Pacific became California’s first chartered university. Today, the institution is home to more than 6,000 students. The university currently offers more than 80 majors and programs of study at its main campus in Stockton, its law school in Sacramento and dentistry school in San Francisco. In 2003, the university’s Eberhardt School of Business (ESB) began working on an ambitious plan to deliver streaming video- and voice- conferencing applications to its students.

The IT staff at ESB gained some experience with wireless networking when they implemented a number of 802.11b wireless products in 2002 to provide students and faculty more ubiquitous Internet and e-mail access. The staff’s experience using traditional 802.11b access points led them to believe they would run into problems delivering real-time applications using the technology. The voice and video applications would be time-sensitive and bandwidth-intensive. Also, the user environments would be dense. That is to say, there could be a shortage of bandwidth to go around in classroom settings. While university network planners had not yet discovered the right solution, they determined traditional 802.11b technologies could present contention problems and impede the success of voice and video applications.

Jerry Post, the school’s project leader, and his team of planners then decided to look at 802.11a and 802.11g technologies. “Even though the newer Wi-Fi technologies are faster, we ran into scalability issues,” says Post. “Our tests revealed that throughput became unpredictable when the user population increased. It became clear that the applications we had in mind would not work well in a crowded classroom. Moreover, 802.11a did not have the range that we needed for coverage.”

So, the IT team considered installing wired Ethernet networks in the classrooms. Each classroom would call for wiring, upgrading about 35 PCs, and an Ethernet switch. This would have cost more than $50,000 per classroom, says Post. “[But] we couldn’t make that work.”

When ESB found Meru Networks (www.merunetworks.com), the school finally got the solution they wanted. Meru demonstrated a wireless network that supports more than 100 users per access point, as well as delivers the guaranteed bandwidth and quality of service that the school’s real-time applications would require. What’s more, no expensive client upgrades would be necessary.

ESB and Meru worked together to estimate a per-classroom cost of $8,500, representing an immediate savings of more than 80%. Because Meru Air Traffic Control technology features a controller that supports multiple access points, the network could be extended to additional classrooms for about $500 plus the cost of 802.11b adapter cards. In comparison to wired Ethernet, per-classroom savings escalated more than 90%.

Before deploying what was obviously a far superior economic solution for its networking needs, ESB asked for Meru’s assistance in conducting performance tests. Meru complied with a demonstration that included video streaming and real-time audio. Ultimately, 25 lab computers were able to connect to the Meru WLAN and simultaneously play audio/video streams at 340 Kbps.

Post concluded that the Meru WLAN system provided client density and quality of service far superior to any other Wi-Fi offering he had investigated. ESB was also pleased that the Meru technology could support standard wireless clients since its students were already using a variety of programs.

Unwired at last, ESB is now enjoying a new class of wireless - one that supports real-time applications and provides reliable service even in the densest environments. “We want our students to be able to access the wealth of resources that the school has to offer at a time and place they need it most,” says Post. “Thanks to the successful wireless deployment at ESB, they’ll know that they’re at an institution that has the highest IT expectations.”


Wireless at Work

The Challenge

The Eberhardt School of Business (ESB) aimed to deliver new educational data, video and voice applications to its classrooms.

Problems

• Traditional Wi-Fi networks, based on 802.11 access points, may suffer contention problems when supporting real-time applications.

• Even higher-speed 802.11 technologies could fail to satisfy the user density requirements of college classrooms.

• Providing wired Ethernet connectivity in numerous classrooms was cost- prohibitive.

Solutions

• ESB priced, tested and deployed Meru Networks’ technology that supports more than 100 users per access point, and provides the predictable performance and quality of service that the real-time applications demand.

• Students with standard 802.11 client devices are able to take advantage of the wireless network without upgrading their equipment.

• ESB is realizing savings of more than 90% compared to wired Ethernet.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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