Chesterfield County Public Schools of Virginia Chooses Enterprise WLAN

Guided by a long-term strategic plan, Chesterfield County Public Schools of Virginia is working to achieve its vision of providing an engaging and relevant education that prepares students to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

The large district encompasses 62 schools — 38 elementary schools, 12 middle schools, 11 high schools — (11 specialty centers within high schools), and one technical center. Some 58,764 students attend Chesterfield schools, and the district employs 7,815 full-time and part-time positions.

Like any sprawling, cutting-edge school district, an enterprise-class wireless network is vital. All school districts are facing a massive influx brought by the BYOD trend, and on top of that, most districts must do more of their annual state tests via computer. This computer-based-testing emphasis means that most school districts have outgrown their computer labs.

The Challenge
Before implementing Aerohive, Chesterfield County Public Schools didn’t have a proper wireless network. The few wireless computers they did have were for faculty only – no student access — and they weren’t centrally managed.

“We held out on wireless until the solutions met our needs,” said Achim Purdy, Network Manager at Chesterfield County Public Schools.

Considering the Alternatives
Chesterfield had a “bake-off” with three vendors on its short list. They considered many factors including cost, ease of management, the underlying infrastructure required to maintain the APs, and scalability. “And then we just boiled that down to what met our needs,” Purdy said.

There were some technology considerations in the school district that led his team to wanting a controller-less network that has “APs with the knowledge on the edge,” Purdy said.

“Our WAN circuits were somewhat suspect back in those days,” he said. “So going with a controller module just didn’t fit our needs.”

Chesterfield schools ultimately, chose Aerohive for its cost, security, the ease of setup and management and the cooperative control of the APs.

Deployment / HiveManager
Chesterfield has so far deployed more than 2,000 Aerohive APs. These include AP121s (cost-effective, enterprise-grade 2x2 MIMO solution) AP350s (high-performance, 3 stream, 802.11n Access Point with external antennas designed for challenging indoor environments) and the AP170s (high-performance outdoor Access Points).

The wireless project started about two years ago, and all schools in the district now have coverage, Purdy said.

For command and control, Purdy and his team are using the HiveManager. “It’s very intuitive,” he said. “We can take guys on the network team that may not be as familiar as they should be with wireless, and we introduce them to an interface that is very intuitive. You don’t have to be a wireless specialist in order to navigate through and troubleshoot and see statuses.”

“The real-time information you get with HiveManager — showing you the health of your network — is very nice,” he said.

Purdy’s boss also benefits with HiveManager. “It’s something that I can launch and immediately get a comprehensive view of the wireless network, and what areas have the heavy users,” said Adam Seldow, Ed.D. Executive Director of Technology, Chesterfield County Public Schools. “I can gain a better appreciation of network saturation and just by popping into the HiveManager. I use it to make decisions.”

Results & Recommendations
One Aerohive feature Purdy finds particularly useful is “the settings of how far we extend our signal in order to manage our throughput based on signal strength.” He then keeps tabs on that throughput. “We tell the APs not to accept any beacon request under a certain data rate. So if a weak connection is associated or attempted, we send you to another AP that might be able to service you better. So the clients that are in the data throughput range don’t have to wait for you. They don’t have to wait for the slower clients to respond.”

“From my perspective, Aerohive’s wireless is one of the few things where we know the exact cost,” Seldow said. “And we know that we can buy as many or as few units as we need at any point in time. It’s one of those rare things in technology where any bit of funding you can use towards it will help make your network more robust. If you had to buy big switches or anything else there’s certainly a large fixed cost involved. We can scale up quickly and at different rates just by simply buying APs.”

When asked if he’d recommend Aerohive to others, Seldow that he already has done so. “I’ve used Aerohive successfully in two fairly large school districts now, and it’s one of the few things that just works.”