Wireless Network Overhaul at Dean College

By Jennifer Lawinski  |  Posted 08-09-2011

In the late 1990s, Dean College was one of the first in the country to offer campus-wide wireless networking to its students and faculty. However, by the time CIO Darrell Kulesza arrived in the fall of 2008, that network was suffering under the strain of a growing student body and increasing network demands from social media and Internet video users. The college also had no disaster recovery plan.

In spring 2010, the Franklin, Mass.-based college planned to open a new 28,800-square-foot performing arts and dining center that would further tax its wireless network capacity. The private, residential college has an enrollment of approximately 1,000 full-time students and 500 part-time students every school year.

Kulesza's first action as CIO was to hire Russell Prentice -- a colleague he had worked with in the IT consulting world work -- as Director of IT Services. Prentice was tasked with undertaking a campus-wide evaluation of the college's infrastructure and its systems.

"One of our goals was we wanted to put the college more on a business footing," Prentice says. "The first problem we had Day 1 when I got there was obviously there was a move to digital TV. [We realized] we wouldn't be able to provide TV in the near future. The network was performing badly -- it was not defined well."

The organic growth of the network over the years had left a system on the verge of collapse. The wireless network needed a serious upgrade, and the college's phone system was inadequate for its needs. "Our phone system is antiquated and old. Every time there was a lightning strike we lost $8,000 because something blew up somewhere," Prentice says. The college wanted to move to VoIP, but its network wasn't able to handle it. "The problem with VoIP is that the college infrastructure, the wiring infrastructure, wasn't good enough."

Rewiring would give the college the ability to upgrade its network infrastructure to Cat 6 wiring and to ditch the legacy phone system in favor of an NEC VoIP solution that would integrate with the current system while allowing time to make a smooth transition. "By going VoIP, we enabled ourselves not to have to lay two cables. We're running a single cable, so you feel a little more environmentally friendly by not using as much copper," Prentice says.

To handle the wiring upgrade and the creation of a new, more robust wireless network, Dean hired Carousel Industries. In summer 2010 -- between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next, and while students and summer programs were still actively using the network -- Carousel and Dean undertook a campus-wide upgrade. It deployed 10-gigabet HP data switches and 335 Aruba AP-105 wireless access points. Traffic was managed by an Aruba 6000 Mobility Controller.

"We now have Wi-Fi coverage across the campus, no matter where you go," Kulesza says. "And now we have zero complaints, nobody is unhappy. Not only that, we've increased our security in the process. We now allow students to use their PCs inside the classrooms, but because they're on the Wi-Fi and coming through the Wi-Fi firewall we can manage what they're doing."

With a new infrastructure in place, the college had to think about its plans for disaster recovery and how to back up its growing data stores. "We looked at potentially going to an outside vendor for disaster recovery, but it made more sense for us to put in a satellite data center and replicate from our primary data center over to our satellite," Kulesza says.

The college upgraded its EMC storage platform and created a satellite data center on the opposite side of campus. With Carousel, it deployed an HP StorageWorks MSL 4048 tape backup solution as well. Dean also upgraded its SAN and virtualized servers, reducing power consumption.

"When I got here in 2008 it was not uncommon for the network to go down, or for parts of the campus not to get to the network," Kulesza says. "In the two years that I've been here working with Russ, we've been able to really stabilize the network and provide an environment that's secure and that is reliable, and all the while trying to move the college ahead from a technology perspective and in trying to reduce the cost in all of that."

An enhanced ability to attract and retain students and high-caliber faculty will show whether the college's investment in new technology has been worth it, Kulesza says. While the infrastructure upgrade and the disaster recovery projects were not primarily driven by cost savings, Kulesza says the $1.5 million investment has been able to bring the college's IT spending down. For example, Kulesza says the organization has been able to cut hardware replacement costs in half, and cut the cost of its wireless network by 30 percent.

For other CIOs looking to reshape the way their organizations use IT, Kulesza says having the right staff -- and a high-ranking supporter in the enterprise -- are key. "From my perspective you have to have a strong team. And you have to plan, which Russ is very good at," he says. "You have to really plan it out, and you have to have support of your senior leadership. We had the support of Dr. Rooney, the president of Dean College, to undertake this. She believes very much strategically in technology and we have an obligation to students and to faculty. We want to retain students. Our faculty needs to be able to teach in an environment that is secure."

In undertaking the assessment and renovation of the IT infrastructure, Kulesza says understanding the extent of the problem was key in finding a solution. "One of the shocks that came about was realizing how much technology we actually had in this small space. We're trying to move forward and buy these things, but we're reducing our cost as well. By virtualizing servers we're saving money," he says.

"Now what we're looking at is the classroom technology. We have half a million [dollars] tied up in classroom technology and we're looking to deal with that, and to use VDI to eliminate half a million dollars in desktop costs. The only thing constraining us at the moment is that there are [only] four of us."