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Big Dreams, Small Budget

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Charleston Southern cuts its cords and costsby moving to a campuswide wireless solution.

Many colleges and universities areCharleston Southern University“cutting the cord” — implementingwireless networks thatallow students and faculty to knock downtraditional classroom walls and access theInternet from classrooms, libraries,eateries, and living areas. But is wireless anoption for small schools with smallbudgets? Absolutely.

Charleston Southern University (SC),a four-year liberal arts school and one ofSouth Carolina’s largest accredited universities,worked with technology partnerCDW Government Inc. (CDW-G;www.cdwg.com) to select technologyproducts that would make the university’swireless dream a reality.

In spring 2000, CSU’s ManagementInformation Systems (MIS) team consideredupgrading its dial-up network toimprove connectivity campwide. Morethan 1,000 residential students attendingCSU often encountered busy signals andslow connections when trying to access thenetwork. Wishing to keep pace withrapidly evolving network technology andoffer improved Internet access, CSU initiateda project that would provide a moreproductive learning environment.

Expanding CSU’s dial-up systemwould cost more than $80,000 and wouldprovide only temporary relief. Anotheroption—even more costly at over$500,000—was to re-cable the buildingusing Category 5 cable, but this wouldrequire pulling Ethernet cables into everyresidence hall room. Ultimately, CSU wasdetermined that a wireless network wouldbe more cost-effective and could offer thespeed and scalability required to serve theneeds of students and faculty.

Unveiling the Improved Network

CSU and CDW-G worked together toselect the best technologies for a pilotprogram, and by the summerof 2000, the technology teaminstalled the first Proxim(www.proxim.com) accesspoint in a residence hall. Theequipment needed to test thenew technology cost only$2,000. For several months, 10 trialstudents reported on connectivity,uptime,and speed. The trial was successful, anddemand from the general university populationgrew. CSU’s cabinet then approved a$220,000 program to equip all residencehalls with wireless technology.

“This was an investment in the university’sfuture at a cost savings of over$250,000,” reports Tony Boone, a wirelessadministrator at CSU.

CDW-G provided products and technologyexpertise, helping to develop a functioningnetwork. CSU’s MIS team selectedProxim Wi-Fi access points, 3Com (www.3com.com) network switches, and morethan 350 client cards for students. Asstudent demand grew, CSU secured 1,000more cards. The team also hired a full-timetechnician to maintain the system andprovide student support. The new networkkept phone lines free, provided much higherconnection speeds, and linked all residencehall students to the Net simultaneously.

“We pride ourselves on equippingstudents for future leadership roles,” saysBoone. “CDW-G supported our missionand offered products and services to create awireless networking environment, whichreduces costs and delivers high-qualityconnectivity, anywhere, anytime. Theyhelped us choose a solution that presentedmore options for future growth.”

Assessing the New System

In June 2001, CSU tested 30 access points,several switches, a high-bandwidthmanaged cable modem, router, server, andassociated equipment, which by mid-August were all fully operational. Asstudents arrived on campus that fall, theyreceived their cards. Everything ransmoothly until the ISP-provided routerbegan locking up, requiring resetting every20 minutes. Investigations revealed thatstudents were using the system to downloadmovies, music, videos, and othermedia. More than 500 students were usingthe new system, but 40 were using all thebandwidth.

The university switched to a managedT-1 and determined that the existingrouter could not adequately handle theload of more than 500 students. Workingwith CDW-G, CSU selected a Cisco(www.cisco.com) PIX 515 firewall and abandwidth packet shaper to control bandwidthusage. This enabled the administratorto limit the amount of bandwidtheach student received, blocking excessivedownloads. Subsequently, students couldenjoy high-speed Internet access up tofour times faster than the dial-up solution.

Educational Resources at Your Fingertips

“With a more sophisticated networkingsystem, students have the freedom to accesseducational resources from almostanywhere on campus,” says Boone, addingthat “with uninterrupted, fast, convenientconnectivity, students experience a morepositive learning environment.”

After the successful residence halldeployment, CSU expanded the networkto cover every building on campus,including classrooms, the library, eateries,and living areas. Now, more than 1,000residential and 2,000 commuter studentscan access the Internet, use e-mail, conductresearch, and retrieve class materialscampuswide. Today, the university maintainsone of the largest wireless networks inSouth Carolina and was the first universityin the state to provide wireless Internetaccess in all of its buildings—more than 80access points in 23 buildings.

CSU and CDW-G also worked togetherin 2004 to select 3Com’s IntelliJack SwitchNJ225 FX, which transformed a singlefiber connection into four 10/100 switchedports. This allowed CSU to distribute itsnetwork to wireless access points withoutbuying and installing expensive fiberswitchingplatforms that exceeded presentand future needs.

Exploring Endless Possibilities

CSU equipped the campus with other newtechnology products to enhance learning oncampus, as well. All classrooms have wiredand wireless Internet access, while 90percent have fixed LCD projectors andsmart podiums, allowing faculty to bringthe Internet to the classroom and infusetechnology into the curriculum. Consequently,after only a year, the student failure/withdrawal rates decreased by 13 percent.

“Teaching behind a podium with anaged course outline is no longer an effectivemethod of communicating withstudents. Teaching must be active, ratherthan passive,” explains Patty Hambrick,CSU’s director of academic technology.“Technology provides a variety of instruction,along with advanced communicationand research methods for a generation oflearners who perform better whenpresented with visual concepts and a morecollaborative learning environment.”

CSU is currently constructing a newscience building and plans to deploy 14 ofProxim’s ORiNOCO AP-700 wireless accesspoints there this year. The university’s MISteam is also developing a wireless chart toidentify the external reach of all accesspoints—the first step in broadening thewireless network to implement outdoor hotspots for some campus common areas. Inaddition, CSU has installed externalantennas with the goal of deploying a totallywireless campus for students.

The university’s successful implementationdemonstrates that institutionswith small technology budgets can putpowerful programs in place to meet andexceed the educational needs of students,faculty, and staff.

“Our success is directly attributable tothree things: good planning, good people,and good technology,” said Boone. “Wewill continue to evaluate cutting-edgetechnologies to provide our students withthe best education possible.”

Rusty Bruns is the CIO of CharlestonSouthern University, an independentliberal arts college in Charleston, SC.Previously, he served as an adjunct facultymember in the Business TechnologyDepartment at Trident Technical College(SC). Bruns is also a retired naval supplyofficer. E-mail rbruns@csuniv.edu.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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