Wireless becomes more accessible to students
Wireless is now a bit more accessible on campus.
Over the summer, Gannon University’s Information Technology Services decided to update the campus wireless system by installing a brand-new master wireless controller.
The new mechanism is the second massive system update in two years; last summer, ITS installed an advanced network of wireless access points, which connect the student to the master controller and then the internet.
“There’s three components of wireless,” said Mark Jordano, director of ITS, “the antennas in the hallways you connect to, the controller we use to manage our network, and Cisco Clean Access that makes sure your system is virus-free and patched and helps keep the wireless network safe.”
Jordano emphasized that the new system was more secure, and that these two changes over the last two years were what ITS was doing “behind the scenes” to update the wireless system.
However, the third wireless component – Cisco Clean Access – is what’s been giving ITS a headache during the first weeks of school. According to Jordano, the wireless network outages in the residence halls and academic buildings can be directed to the older Cisco Clean Access software.
“The number of wireless devices that students are bringing to campus has just grown at an unbelievably rapid pace, so Clean Access was just not able to handle the volume,” Jordano said.
The good news is Jordano and his ITS team believe they have found a solution to the outages. On Thursday, the ITS staff successfully balanced Cisco’s workload between two devices, and later that night the status of the wireless system noticeably improved.
“We’re going to keep monitoring it obviously and keep making changes to it,” Jordano said. “Basically you’ve got one old component out of three big components within the wireless network. Cisco’s capacity causes the hiccups.
“With us sharing the workload a little differently between the two devices that we have, we hope those problems are behind us.”
Nick Dragoone, a junior criminal justice major, said the network outages have been somewhat annoying.
“I thought everything worked fine before,” he said. “I work for GUEST, and I’ve had trouble logging on both in the academic buildings and residence halls.”
Gannon first purchased Cisco Clean Access about eight or nine years ago, and according to Jordano, the system has had only one update in that timeframe.
“When we purchased the Clean Access, probably 90 percent of access in the residence halls were plugged in to the wired connections,” Jordano said.
“Now it’s almost 98 percent wireless, and it’s just really not designed for that. It was designed for nine years ago, so it definitely needs to be replaced.”
With the wireless access points and master controller upgraded, the security system is the next thing on the tune up list.
But even though Cisco has a package that handles wireless connections much better, Jordano said the high cost of the package isn’t worth the trouble, and instead, Gannon will be purchasing a whole new security system from a different company.
“We evaluated [Cisco’s] new version against alternatives, and we’d like to switch to a completely new vendor in Bradford,” Jordano said. “We think it’s a better, more economical system. Now it’s a matter of finding the funding for it and finding a time to implement it.
“The hope would be that over next summer we would replace Cisco.”
Updating the wireless system wasn’t the only task that kept ITS busy this summer.
Through discussions during the spring semester between Jordano and a dozen students, ITS moved forward with plans to remove HBO from its campus cable programming while increasing the speed of Internet bandwidth in the residence halls from 150 Megabits per second to 200 Mbps, all without increasing the price tag of the GUConnect fee.
Jordano said the closed-door forums proved more helpful than a campus-wide survey would have, in that the discussions provided the ITS staff with more of a focus on “anecdotal evidence.”
“We more wanted to hear open-ended questions and ideas, that kind of thing,” Jordano said.
“We wanted to have more of a dialogue with the students, and SGA helped us find a good number of resident students who were either freshmen or sophomores and would be here a couple of years to see this out.”
Another reason for the change was the cable company now wanted Gannon to pay 2 1/2 times for the HBO package than what it was currently paying for its entire channel package.
That would have meant the GUConnect fee would have risen to compensate, and students would have had to pay a little extra just to watch a few more channels.
“The consensus was that students didn’t really want to pay more for GUConnect just to keep HBO,” Jordano said.
“What they did say is they’d love more bandwidth because they watch TV and other entertainment options over the Web, so having more bandwidth available would be preferred over keeping HBO channels and having to pay more for them.”
Dragoone agreed with the idea to improve the bandwidth at the cost of missing a few HBO channels.
“TV isn’t really necessary,” he said, “but we need the Internet.”
Despite both technology overhauls this summer, Jordano said keeping up with changing technology is just “the nature of the beast.” About 12 years ago when a wireless network was first installed on Gannon’s campus, most students didn’t have a wireless device anyway.
“The fact that it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a student to bring a laptop, a gaming device, a smart phone and a tablet; that’s not that uncommon,” Jordano said. “You can add more to that list, and there’s some students that have six or seven different devices that connect to our network.
“That explosion has been difficult to keep up with. It is a challenge to stay one step ahead, and it’s a challenge that we typically meet. But we’re not perfect, and there’s lots of moving parts.”
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