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University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point Campus wireless deployment

By Rob Kobiske, Technical Operations Specialist, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point


HP Networking had an opportunity to talk with Rob Kobiske, Technical Operations Specialist at University of Wisconsin, about the recent wireless deployment at the Stevens Point campus. Rob’s job responsibilities include managing the UWSP internal network as well as the wireless network.


Tell us a bit about IT at UWSP.

UWSP IT operates under a centralized IT model.  IT has over 40 full time staff members and is split into three key areas; Technical Operations, Technical Support Services and Application Development.   These three areas provide the primary support for all students and staff—both on as well as off campus.  The Technical Operations group handles over 1,100 access points, and over 15,000 switch ports.  At any one time we have over 5,000 wireless devices on our wireless network. Our network is comprised of mainly HP5400s on the edge, and HP5900s at the core.  We have three HP7500 Unified Wired-WLAN Modules setup in a failover configuration across two different datacenters. 


Briefly describe your wireless deployment.

Our wireless deployment provides wireless access to students and staff anywhere on campus (in buildings only).  We have 100% coverage in all campus buildings, including the residence halls.  Using one SSID, our wireless network provides access to both students and staff. Based on login name, we separate students and staff into different networks at the AP level.  This allows us to support students and staff the same, while only giving the necessary access to both groups.  


How do you deal with an environment where any device might need to connect?

We have a great support staff who are very knowledgeable in supporting wireless on different devices and who work tirelessly with our service desk.  We’re able to provide the level of service we do because we’re able to put devices into different networks based on what the device is, or who owns the device.  Devices owned by our campus have antivirus installed, a firewall enabled etc., we’re able put in one network vs. a device off the street that we have to segment away from the trusted devices.  We assign non-campus owned devices the same access an off campus user would have.  This really works well as we can segment our wireless devices into two groups, trusted and untrusted devices.  In addition we have another group of users that also need support, those who are just visiting campus.  These visitors still need internet access for checking email, and surfing the web, but usually require substantially less access than students who are connecting to the network for educational needs.  


Is your HP Unified Wireless capable of satisfactorily handing the multitude of clients?

The HP Unified Wireless controllers handle all these different types of users with ease.  We’re able to have all of these different user groups on our network all at the same time.  Even when the semester is in full swing and we have a large conference on campus everyone is able to access the wireless network easily.


Can you share any unusual stories from students using the wireless?

In this day and age I’m amazed that students tend to forget that computers previously had to be plugged into a designated wired port for network access.  Wireless access is just expected now, vs in the past it was considered a high tech luxury.  Laptops have stopped shipping with wired ports and are now just shipping with wireless because wireless is everywhere.  The proliferation of wireless in devices over the years is just amazing.  We used to be able to get away with providing wireless in common areas to laptop users and that was state of the art.  Now wireless is in every device and is in use everywhere, even some places we never expected including bathrooms.


Where on campus has it been the most challenging to cover with WiFi?

By far the residence halls. I can go on and on about this, but residence halls have as many access points as classroom buildings but are 1/3 of the size. As a result, manual channel alignment becomes extremely problematic in this situation.  We have APs on each floor, stacked on top of each other.  These residence halls were built many years before wireless was even a thought in someone’s mind. Just retro fitting these residence halls with wire for wireless APs is a challenge.  Students live behind rebar enforced concrete walls that are virtually impossible to penetrate with wireless frequencies. Once these walls are penetrated with wireless signal, we are met with a lot of interference.  Everyone has at least one microwave in their room for late night snacks. Students also have a lot of devices. We plan for at least three devices per student (laptop, phone, and tablet).  New devices are constantly being purchased and expected to work on our WiFi system. Students tend to be on the cutting edge and tend to have the latest and greatest devices.  Not all of these devices, however, come with the best wireless network cards though. We have to contend with a lot of 2.4 GHz devices.  To deal with all these challenges we’ve deployed one AP per four dorm rooms.  We’ve mounted these APs in the hallways between the four rooms we’re trying to cover.  We’ve found this gives users the coverage they need while still allowing enough bandwidth to be available to every device.


Originally you had HP MSM and now HP Unified, was there a single feature that really drove you to upgrade?

There were two features that drove us to the unified wireless solution.  The first was the ability to support an increasing number APs per controller and higher client densities. The second was the advanced radio resource management (RMM) capabilities the unified wireless controllers were able to handle.  RMM was huge in our residence halls where we had such a dense AP environment.  With the MSMs we had to set our channels manually. This was virtually impossible to try and maintain.   The unified wireless solution took care of it all for us. 


How did the transition go? 

The transition went great! We couldn’t have been more pleased with the transition. All of our APs are in a different management network per building so we were able to change one DHCP scope option in a building scope and the APs would adopt on the new controllers.  If something went wrong, we would change the DHCP option back and they’d be back to the MSM solution. While the UM interface was a learning curve for us the UM solution runs so smoothly we rarely have to access the controller management.   I think it’s important to note, we didn’t do the transition ourselves.


What in store for the future for the WLAN network?

More speed, more APs, more users, but who really knows.  I feel pretty confident that wherever the future goes, our UM controllers will meet the need.  I know as the days go on, wireless is being relied on more and more and is treated as a necessity and not just a luxury.


With so many choices for WLAN solutions, why HP for UWSP?

Other than because of great support from HP?    We’re pretty much a HP shop.  We have HP switches, HP servers, and HP desktops.  It just made sense to continue on the HP product portfolio and include wireless from HP.  It also makes support calls a lot easier.  We can send all our HP configurations end to end and let HP support figure out where the issue is.  It makes it so much easier vs having to engage multiple companies.


University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Ranked among the top ten regional universities in the Midwest, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point offers a top quality education across a wide range of nationally recognized programs. Students from 35 states and over 38 countries choose to make Stevens Point their new home each year, and their reasons for coming are as diverse as the majors they offer. UWSP is a leader in environmental initiatives with a nationally recognized college of natural resources within one of the greenest colleges in the nation, according to the Princeton Review.


Located in central Wisconsin, UWSP has nearly 10,000 students and 400 academic staff.  The campus covers 400 acres and 35 buildings – with 13 of those being residential housing 3500 students. 


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