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The Law of Wireless

By Gary Bolles  |  Posted 06-13-2002 Print

The Law of Wireless

CIOs shouldn't fool themselves that just because the equipment seems to drop in easily and cheaply, wireless networks are easy to manage. Just ask Stanford's Davis. Wireless access was first installed at Stanford University's law school nearly three years ago. Entering law students were required to buy laptop computers that gave them wireless Web access and the ability to reach online legal databases and even take tests.

But wireless access was only available on an ad hoc basis and not designed for classroom use until the law school began planning to remodel its buildings early last year. Davis estimated that in classrooms in the law school alone, as many as 2,500 students were going to require connections to the campus network in the revamped buildings. But every wired Ethernet connection was going to cost about $1,000 just for initial installation.

"We had run wireless, and had found very little operational cost," says Davis. "Basically, [the savings from not cabling] a third of just one room provided us all the value we needed for the whole law school" to install wireless, says Davis. Success at the law school prompted Davis to push for a campuswide installation, bringing in networks such as the engineering school and even the football stadium, which now offers wireless access to sports scores. By April, the campus had 200 wireless access points installed, with 500 more planned within the year. But the network still wasn't live.

The sticking point? Management. Davis soon found that he couldn't monitor the bandwidth being used on any one access point—a process that's perfectly simple on a wired network. Worse, there was no way to figure out if the network was even working unless a student called in a problem.

That's why his team spent so much time crafting a management scheme. Davis bought management technology from Cisco Systems Inc. that lets the university determine which access points are down, allowing them to drop new hardware in place quickly. And software from Newbury Networks allows Davis to manage its wireless network "almost the same as you manage your wired space," says Davis. He can use the access points to locate specific wireless devices, so the support team can trouble-shoot problems right down to the user level.

Davis says the new management scheme is working so well that the university plans to announce campuswide wireless access in June.


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