University accelerates wireless upgrades

If you think the summer went fast, don’t try getting any sympathy from Debbie Jones.

The Information Technology Services (ITS) director and her team have been busy updating the campus wireless network, eyeing more capacity and faster connections. Originally based on a four-year timetable, ITS now targets a completion in 18 months thanks to additional resources provided during the budgeting process.

“We felt the timeline wasn’t going to meet the campus’, and especially the students’, needs,” Jones says. “So we responded aggressively.”

When a majority of students left last spring, connectivity issues and dragging speeds were tops among their complaints. The problem boiled down to raw numbers.

Western saw its unique wireless log-ins grow from 12,816 in 2006 to 31,898 in 2010. The maximum concurrent users logged on grew from 5,700 in 2009/10 to 7,500 in 2010/11. That’s not to mention the 377,620 e-mails handled per day.

And when Jones gets the latest numbers this week, she expects to see growth again.

“With more students using more devices than ever, that demand is never going to go down,” she says.

Bracing for the continued crush, and responding to student concerns, university officials asked Jones to prepare a budget based on the accelerated 18-month timetable. She did; it was approved.

Last fall, ITS selected the California-based Aruba Networks to replace the former system on campus with the latest generation of wireless (IEEE 802.11n). That was followed by the replacement of core infrastructure – the hardware and software driving the network connections – on Dec. 20.

The current phase involves replacing the original 1,060 access points (located in the corners of rooms and hallways across the campus) as well as adding another 2,000-plus into the mix. ITS has three crews working on multiple buildings at the same time.

The D.B. Weldon Library and Allyn & Betty Taylor Library in Natural Sciences Centre, which shoulder the heaviest wireless demand on campus, were the first to be upgraded. Seven of the university’s highest usage buildings are completely updated with another four to come online in the first month or so of the semester.

During and after project completion, Western will continue to show three wireless networks – public, secure and eduroam, the worldwide roaming access service developed for educational institutions. Students will notice, however, a push toward the secure system.

“As we’re moving to the new system, we’re also encouraging them to move. We’ve bulked up the size of the secure network,” Jones says. She cites four reasons for the renewed push: 1. Security; 2. threat avoidance; 3. simplicity; and 4. multiple devise use under one login.

 

COMING ON LINE

In total, seven of the university’s highest usage buildings are completely updated with another four to come online in the first month or so of the semester. The order of completion is based on usage. Visit wireless.uwo.ca/ for the latest developments.

Completed upgrades

D.B. Weldon Library

Natural Sciences Centre/Allyn & Betty Taylor Library

Faculty of Law

North Campus

University Community Centre

Western Student

Social Science

In progress

Heath Sciences, Sept. 22

Support Services, Sept. 25

Spencer Hall, Oct. 13

Richard Ivey School of Business (new building)

Planning

Stevenson/Lawson Hall

Spencer Engineering

Thompson Engineering

Physics and Astronomy