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ISTE 2013 – Optimizing Your Network Infrastructure for the Mobile Device Influx

June 24, 2013

I am at the Technology Infrastructure Pavilion with an opportunity to listen to some experienced Directors of Technology give some advice on their network infrastructure.

Devin Atkin
Bradley Chambers – Director of IT for Brainerd Baptist Church and School
Phil Hardin
Exec Dir of Tech
Rowan Salisbury School System

Phil: 5 years ago there was no 1:1, no wireless infrastructure, some carts, but nothing.

Brad: Nothing a few years ago, but now we have supplied technology and personal technology that they want to use. Employees and administration want wireless that works. They want it to be fast. They don’t want any grief. Remember – employees are our customers. They don’t understand that it’s not just about plugging it in.

Question: You have overhauled your wireless, what did you do, what are your key factors:

Bradley: Got a phone call from Aerohive, and walked through their process. Distributed. However cash is a factor. 85% of revenue is tuition. 85% of expenses are salary. Really like Aerohive. Tried Meraki – didn’t like it. Didn’t even try some others, like Ruckus, or others. Compares Aerohive to iPhone – it’s so good, no one will care about paying extra. Really likes Aerohive controllerless wireless.

Phil: Started 4 years ago with a high school that got a school improvement grant to put in 1:1 program, and needed wireless access. Started to look at enterprise wireless solution. Whatever they went with for that high school, were going to standardize and use it everywhere. Ran through standard due diligence. It was a federal grant, so it had to go out for bid. Chose to implement Aerohive. Implementation went well. Configuration went very well, didn’t take much time. Discovered tech support was extremely good – which surprised them. Tech support always answered the phone. After that school, they were real comfortable with Aerohive. Around the same time they discovered that almost 76% of students coming in, were not meeting the grade level requirements, so went to a 1:1 implementation of iOS devices. However were a little concerned about the wireless – put in 35 AP’s, to support about 1000 devices. Wired wasn’t ready until Wednesday, had to plug in AP’s on Friday, but be live on Saturday. It worked so well, that Phil describes implementation as flawless. Actions sold on this product and how all 35 schools have Aerohive everywhere.

Bradley: Another reason we put in Aerohive. Compares to buying a care – you drive it, you look at the dashboard, how does it feel. Aerohive worked great. He really hates “feature licensing” as the rest of us do. With Aerohive, no feature licensing – you get everything for the one price.

Question: What benefits have you seen implementing this new network? How has this impacted your department?

Phil: Staff and students can access anywhere on any campus. Had non-enterprise, consumer grade before – was problematic. Now manage 1500-1600 AP’s, can push out a config in 1-2 minutes. Troubleshooting, deployment, configuration time has decreased significantly.

Bradley: Was able to have a secretary replace an AP, and he could configure it and deploy it from his phone, from a distance. Also software on Aerohive was able to tell that the client wasn’t accessing a DHCP from the AP. Aerohive gave him more visibility. Using the tools, he can quickly diagnose where the problem is. Could see, from his phone, which AP, connectivity, and any information about which client is connecting to the network.

Question: Have you implemented any new learning programs as a result?

Bradley: Using Renaissance Learning, just released a new iPad app – Bradley no longer worries about if it will work.

Phil: We implement tech to change teaching and learning. Now seeing true innovation in the classroom. Seeing more collaboration, seeing more development of digital textbooks from staff and students. AirPlay works extremely well with Aerohive.

Questions: Benefits of controllerless wi-fi

Phil: No downtime. AP is not dependent on the controller, or connectivity. No wait for recovery.

Bradley: Teachers will only try something once, so it’s got to work. Todd’s note: This happens everywhere, but it’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen. Bradley: I don’t know why controllers still exist. If you are looking to buy a controller, you are either crazy, or you received an inheritance from someone who required it to be spent on a controller. Using Captive Portal on each AP, so even when Internet goes down, the network still works. Aerohive tunes their AP’s to work with iPads.

Question: How has the influx of mobile devices impacted IT department?

Phil: Going from 1000 to 9000 iOS devices was a big hit. Aerohive integrates with JAMF, so now enrolling iOS device right from the school, and getting wi-fi immediately. School can deploy iPads super fast, without having to wait for IT. Inventory is there, and tracked.

Bradley: iOS has knocked down some IT barriers. Giving us a blessing and a curse. Thinking this could lead to outsourcing of IT departments. But it’s also giving us a chance to change, and change a mindset. IT is now becoming a technology enabler, not just a cost centre. Now IT will have to evolve, or it will become extinct. Plugged in his Mac which was running configurator to his MFP, and installed an AirPrint package for $20, so now iPads can print.

Question: What is your general approach to BYOD

Phil: Using 1:1 instead of BYOD, and iOS devices – so therefore have a specific application set for everyone to use, rather than just “online tools”. Want students to do things where they are at. Certain apps do better things than others. If you have 15 different devices in the room, not everyone will have a rich experience. Not sure that I agree with him on this one, especially given the calibre of online software. Not supporting BYOD

Bradley: It’s not about what apps you need, but what are you trying to accomplish with the curriculum. iOS 7 is going to change drastically very soon, and it will be for the good. Definitely of the opinion that you will need to be in the right MDM software and the right wireless vendor. Bradley’s opinion is that MDM vendors are working hard to see what their future will be. In terms of BYOD – thinks it’s no good. Going to the lowest common denominator. So he figures it should be a minimum configuration for sure. Let’s staff bring their own device. Yet, Bradley thinks Google Apps are awesome. Thinks Google Drive for iOS is awesome.

Question: Do you worry about future and influx of computers?

Bradley: Pre-shared keys are given out to staff, and it’s easy to manage. Huh? Don’t buy it.

Phil: You must be very careful and strategic about what wireless devices show up on your network. Don’t allow just anything.

Question: Application Layer Security

Bradley: Network should be open. Visibility is great. Upgrades are free.

Phil: Use Application Inspection

Question: for Bradley – what are you going to do when you run out of IP addresses?

Bradley: I need a new firewall and new switches, that don’t have that limitation.

Question for Phil: Implementation was a couple of days, but how long was planning process?

Phil: Engineer came out and mapped out the schools, heatmap, then just figured out how many, and determined how to configure.

Todd’s thoughts on this session:
I applaud and commend Bradley and Phil for their willingness to share their story. For the prep work they’ve done for today, and I celebrate with them the great successes they are having with their customers (staff and students)

  • Bradley supports a single school, a single building, and can get away with some of the assumptions and things that he is recommending. Yet his comment about not doing BYOD because it brings everything down to the lowest common denominator, but loving Google Apps is contradictory. Regardless of the hardware, if you’re using Google Apps, it’s going to work.
  • This session was advertised inappropriately. It was supposed to be on Optimizing Your Network Infrastructure for the Mobile Device Infux. I didn’t find that this was the case. This was really a sales pitch for Aerohive and Apple. And it was interesting to watch the crowd size. Started with overflowing, but by half way through it was half empty. And by the end, I would say 5% of the initial attendees were there.
  • Bradley is pretty sure he is best and first at everything.
  • It would appear that the decision makers didn’t have a lot of experience with wireless technology. Fortunately the solutions work for them. But I found scalability interesting. Phil was 1500+ AP’s to support, it sounded like, around 9000 devices.



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