Ethernet Technology Helps Unwire Utah Campus

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The University of Utah in Salt Lake City takes pride in its state-of-the-art information technology system, which attracts new students and faculty every year. Today, the university supports a high-speed, highly secure network with access to the Internet, an e-mail system and a wealth of educational resources including Pioneer, Utah’s Online Library (http://pioneer-library.org).

The next step for the university, which has nearly 30,000 students enrolled, was to deploy a wireless network for our students and faculty who wanted access to the Internet, e-mail and online resources regardless of their location on campus. In addition to enhancing its connectivity, the university chose to deploy a wireless local area network (WLAN) to foster a fun and productive learning environment.

The Great Wireless Challenge: Money

Currently, more than a dozen of the university’s departments are installing wireless technologies. Because it is such a huge campus and the project is decentralized, each department performs installations according to its own needs and budgets. However, in an attempt to bring order out of chaos, the university has organized a wireless committee that meets regularly to discuss the successes and failures of the wireless community.

As a computer professional at the university, I serve on the wireless committee. I have led the university’s many projects to deploy a wireless network that could better serve the more than 43,000 combined faculty, staff and students. To complicate matters, our wireless committee was tasked to cost-effectively deploy wireless networks across the campus with a limited budget.

First, we decided to purchase Foundry Networks IronPoint wireless access points because they were reasonably priced. However, wireless access points must be installed in specific locations for proper operation. And considering the number of access points we had to deploy, wiring each one for electrical power, along with the Ethernet cabling, would have been a timely and expensive task.

In order to achieve effective area coverage and radio reception, wireless access points are often mounted in hard-to-reach places such as high ceilings, where it is rare to find an available AC outlet to power the units. The cost of hiring electricians to wire power outlets around campus proved to be a major problem, mainly because the installation costs were beginning to outweigh the obvious benefits of wireless connectivity.

An Empowering Solution

Members of the wireless committee investigated alternatives to supplying electrical power to the 200 access points from Foundry Networks and soon discovered that we could pull the existing Ethernet cabling to power them. This saved the university both time and money in the wireless network’s deployment. Initially, we tested the equipment by purchasing a six-port and 12-port Power over Ethernet (P'E) Midspan from PowerDsine (www.powerdsine.com). Soon thereafter, we received a PowerDsine Education Grant, and the extra P'E devices allowed us to pursue our WLAN deployment more aggressively.

With the PowerDsine P'E Midspan technology, we were able to plug all of our wireless access points into one central location on a rack in the wiring closet. This alone saved us time and money, as well as kept our departments looking clean. Having to plug one device into the uninterruptible power supply, which provides backup power to the wireless network in the event of an electrical outage, was also nice.

Ongoing Implementation

The most recent deployment of the 12-port P'E Midspan was installed in the University of Utah’s Park Building, which currently houses the president, senior vice presidents and other university administrators. The six-port P'E Midspan, which was deployed in April, is located in the University Guest House, which primarily serves out-of-state guests and local staff.

Using the six P'E Midspans from the grant, the wireless committee plans to deploy another phase of the wireless network in the university’s Student Union so students can enjoy high-speed wireless access inside or outside of the building. The wireless committee is also considering a wireless network using P'E Midspans in 10 additional buildings.

Staying Within Budget

Installation of the WLAN access points without P'E technology would have cost the university about $200 or more per access point in certain remote locations on campus. Using PowerDsine’s six-port and 12-port P'E Midspans saved us $1,800 alone. The wireless committee was quick to add that the cost savings did not include the valuable labor hours saved during the deployment. In addition to the installation time and cost savings, the university’s wireless network provides freedom and productivity benefits for both students and faculty.

Now that the University of Utah’s campuswide wireless network is becoming a reality, the committee is certain that using P'E Midspan technology was the right choice. We were also able to stay within budget while saving considerable amounts of time deploying wireless access points throughout the campus. And thanks to the grant, the wireless committee has been able to pursue its wireless network deployment much more aggressively. Not only has deploying P'E Midspans been instrumental to the success of our project, but the reliability of P'E technology and PowerDsine’s quick response to troubleshooting questions have given the committee peace of mind.

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

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