Jan 20, 2009

Network upgrades with Aruba

by Matthew Coleman

Liberty is currently switching its campus-wide wireless Internet and security system from Cisco Clean Access Agent to Aruba ECS. An ongoing process, the new Aruba system is an advancement from the old Cisco system employed by Liberty in previous years.

The choice came down to whether to upgrade the Cisco system used before, or to change to Aruba. The two systems are similar, though not identical, and many factors went into the final decision.

“We evaluated the two systems and decided that Aruba would provide a better experience for the students,” Jimmy Graham, manager of Network Services, said.

Thus far, Cisco has served as Liberty’s Internet watchdog, protecting it from users who log onto the network from any threats, such as viruses. To accomplish this task requires that all users keep their computers updated with the latest Internet protection systems available before they can log onto the network. If the individual computer is not updated, then it is denied access to Liberty’s network and Internet access, effectively protecting others from any potentially debilitating viruses that computer may have.

To provide wireless Internet throughout campus, the Cisco system relies on hundreds of Internet access points scattered around the campus, according to Graham. Each access point provides wireless Internet coverage over a specific area.

While this is an effective system that has served to keep Liberty’s network running smoothly, it does have some drawbacks that Aruba will refine or eliminate.

One of the most significant advancements Aruba has over Cisco is the use of smart Internet access points, according to Jason Rawlings, director of IT Customer Support. In the previous system, if an access point broke down, it would leave a blacked-out spot in that area, effectively creating a wireless Internet dead zone. This hole would persist until the access point could be fixed.

The new Aruba system will remove all of the old Cisco access points and replace them with a smarter, upgraded version. If any Internet access point goes down, nearby access points will register that there is a problem and try to compensate by increasing their area of service to cover the hole created by the downed access point. The Internet connection in the downed area may not be quite as effective or fast, but the Internet will still be available in that area while the technical support team fixes the problem.

Also, many students complained about having to log onto the Cisco system every time they turned on their computer. Aruba will require each student to log onto the system only once in a semester, erasing the hassle of having to log in multiple times throughout the semester. However, students will still be required to upload the necessary safety requirements designated by Aruba.

While Cisco could not run on Macs, Aruba works on both PCs and Macs, adding to the umbrella of protection provided for Liberty’s network.

As of now, the switch from Cisco to Aruba is an ongoing process that is going to take some time to finish. Not all of the wireless access points have been switched from Cisco yet, and Cisco is still responsible for all wired Internet connections, but this will change as the semester progresses. There will undoubtedly be some bumps along the way, but the technical support team is smoothing them out as quickly as possible.

“It is like road construction,” Scott Hara, the Help Desk manager, said. “You expect that there will be some difficulties along the way, but the end result will be better than what you had.”

New security systems aside, Aruba will be providing upgrades to the quality of Internet received for users with the technology to support it, such as the new 802.11N wireless card. Computers equipped with this card will be able to use the Internet at speeds previously unobtainable by wireless Internet connections on campus, according to Graham.

In the near future, students with the 802.11N wireless card will be able to watch IPTV with the clarity and fluidness of a wired connection without the hassle of plugging into a land line, Graham said. Also, the new card will drastically increase the wireless download speeds.

There will be many other advantages available to those with the 802.11N card as the spring semester unfolds, but the Technical Support team is refraining from giving information before the means to incorporate the system’s advancements is in place.

“We want to be further deployed before we start saying what will be available,” Graham said.

For more information about Aruba system, the 802.11N wireless card and their respective capabilities, visit liberty.edu/customersupport.

Contact Matthew Coleman at
mcoleman@liberty.edu. 


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