Wireless network expands technology use in Massachusetts HS

After less than a year on the job Framingham (MA) Public School District, director of technology Adam Seldow faced a daunting challenge – how to turn the district’s aging network infrastructure and PCs into the reliable system that students, teachers, and the community required.

"We needed to upgrade our network infrastructure, but budget was tight. Just running new cabling through our buildings would have been cost prohibitive," Seldow said. "And there's no way we could have afforded to purchase new notebooks for all of our 800 teachers at once.”

That's when Seldow and the district's IT team began to consider a "university model' for the network upgrade challenge: enable network access for students and teachers to use their own devices at school.

The best way to get there, the district decided, was to move wireless. Not only would wireless infrastructure be more cost-effective, it would also provide safe Internet access for students who had been bypassing the district's content filtering by using their mobile devices.

Secure infrastructure, no bottlenecks
Following a careful evaluation, the IT team selected a new class of wireless infrastructure from Aerohive Networks, Inc., built on its Cooperative Control Wireless LAN (WLAN) architecture. The technology combines an access point with a suite of cooperative control protocols and functions that delivers the benefits associated with controller-based wireless LANs – but without the additional cost of hardware controllers or an overlay network.

The intelligence typically found within wireless network controllers is embedded within what Aerohive calls “HiveAPs.” Multiple HiveAPs form "hives" that share control information to perform fast layer 2/layer 3 roaming, cooperative RF management, as well as security and mesh networking.

Management of the network is provided through HiveManager NMS, which enables simple policy creation, firmware upgrades, configuration updates, and centralized monitoring from within a single console. Because HiveManager is not actively involved in passing traffic or in making traffic forwarding decisions, it eliminates network bottlenecks and complexities of controller-based architectures, especially within distributed environments.

Rapid deployment
With the aid of Aerohive engineers, Seldow had the district's 440,000 square foot high school fully connected within five days.

The students and faculty immediately embraced their new wireless access. On the first day, 140 of 200 high school teachers accessed the wireless network with their laptops, while many students also used the content-filtered wireless LAN for Internet access. Teachers were using their iPhones to take class attendance, and there were notebooks in use throughout the school.

"We don't have to do much to manage it, and we routinely get wireless connection speeds of up to 115 to 120 Mbps," remarked Seldow.

Users have been creative. For example, students use their cell phones as feedback devices for classroom participation, while school administrators – using a handheld phone or device – access student information whenever needed anywhere on school premises.

For security, Seldow segmented the WLAN using different Service Set Identifier (SSIDs), WPA2 encryption, and restricted IP ranges. Local police have access to their own, protected network segment, as do the faculty, students, and community guests.

Seldow noted the resiliency provided by the network mesh capabilities. "If one HiveAP loses a connection, they'll instantly mesh off of a nearby AP. This has worked so well that we didn't even know a network connection was down at one point because we had perfect wireless access in the area," he said.

Future growth
Seldow plans to make more applications available for wireless Web access, and rely less on internal networks. And the Aerohive network soon will be used to supplement the district's upcoming voice-over IP telephony effort. "We already have this network in place, and we are going to leverage this wireless technology as much as possible," Seldow said. "We're only at the beginning."