Wireless Networking at Dartmouth College


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Wireless Networking at Dartmouth College

  1. 1. Wireless Networking at Dartmouth College Paul Arabasz, IDC Judith Pirani, Sheep Pond Associates ECAR Case Study 9, 2002 Case Study from the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research
  2. 2. 4772 Walnut Street, Suite 206 Boulder, Colorado 80301 www.educause.edu/ecar/
  3. 3. Wireless Networking at Dartmouth College
  4. 4. EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher edu- cation by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. The mission of the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research is to foster better decision making by conducting and disseminating research and analysis about the role and implications of information technology in higher education. ECAR will systematically address many of the challenges brought more sharply into focus by information technologies. Copyright 2002 EDUCAUSE. All rights reserved. This ECAR Research Study is proprietary and intended for use only by subscribers and those who have pur- chased this study. Reproduction, or distribution of ECAR Research Studies to those not formally affiliated with the subscribing organization, is strictly pro- hibited unless prior written permission is granted by EDUCAUSE. Requests for permission to reprint or distribute should be sent to ecar@educause.edu.
  5. 5. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 0 Wireless Networking at Dartmouth College Preface N best practices cases studies with six The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Re- higher education institutions about their search (ECAR) produces research to promote wireless network implementations. effective decisions regarding the selection, Between March and May 2002, ECAR development, deployment, management, and IDC began with a list of approximately socialization, and use of information tech- 150 colleges and universities that had ex- nology (IT) in higher education. ECAR re- perience implementing wireless networks. search includes research bulletins, short From this list, 20 were interviewed exten- summary analyses of key IT issues; research sively by telephone, and six were selected studies, in-depth applied research on com- for either on-site visits or extensive telephone plex and consequential technologies and follow-up. On-site visits are rigorous and in- practices; and case studies designed to ex- volve nearly two days of interviews and emplify important themes, trends, and ex- meetings with the widest variety of institu- periences in the management of IT tional representatives associated with—or investments and activities. affected by—the technologies or practices ECAR has investigated the state of wire- being investigated. less networking in higher education and has This case study was undertaken to draw issued “Wireless Networking in Higher Edu- on the direct experience of others to pro- cation.” This research was undertaken in vide insights into what has—and, as appro- three phases: priate, what hasn’t—worked in wireless N an online survey of 391 EDUCAUSE implementations. It is assumed that readers members to establish the state of wire- of the case studies will also read the main less networking in higher education and report, which incorporates the findings of to understand its implementation char- the case studies within the generalized con- acteristics; text of the report. N follow-up, in-depth telephone and on- ECAR wishes to thank the leadership of site interviews, covering 17 selected in- Dartmouth College for their time, assistance, stitutions, with IT personnel and univer- and diligence in support of this research. We sity members who are directly involved hope readers of this ECAR case study will with the creation, operation, or use of learn from their experiences. wireless networks; and © 2002 EDUCAUSE. Reproduction by permission only. EDUCAUSE CENTER FOR APPLIED R ESEARCH 1
  6. 6. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 Introduction technology for research and instruction. Located in Hanover, New Hampshire, The focal point of support for most in- Dartmouth College is a private four-year stitutional administrative systems, Adminis- college with an enrollment of 4,200 under- trative Computing provides systems needs graduates in the liberal arts and 1,500 analysis, design, development or procure- graduate students. With an annual budget ment, operations, and maintenance; data of approximately $425 million (for fiscal year administration; information systems and 2000), Dartmouth employs approximately capacity planning; system security; and con- 3,115 staff and 2,250 faculty. A member of sulting on system use. This division forms the Ivy League, Dartmouth offers 16 gradu- close partnerships with institutional efforts ate programs in the arts and sciences, as well to improve the effectiveness and efficien- as a medical school (Dartmouth Medical cies of local or campus-wide administrative School), a professional school of engineer- processes. ing (Thayer School of Engineering), and a Computing Support includes Computer graduate school of management (Tuck Sales, Service, and Support and Communi- School of Business). Dartmouth College is cations and Telephone Services. also intimately associated with the Technical Services develops and supports Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, of Dartmouth’s technical infrastructure for data which the College and the Medical School networking and computing. The Technical are members. In terms of information tech- Services division supports the school’s nology, the two environments are close Ethernet backbone and servers, connection peers, sharing various services, although of the backbone to the Internet, and net- DHMC maintains separate networking. work applications. Consistent with its size, Dartmouth main- The core of Dartmouth’s computing in- tains a highly centralized IT organization, frastructure is an Ethernet backbone em- known as Peter Kiewit Computing Services. ploying Nortel routers that links all 161 of In addition, there are smaller IT organiza- the school’s buildings. Dartmouth supports tions affiliated with each of the three pro- approximately 20 public computing clusters fessional schools. With a staff of across the campus, the largest of which are approximately 150, Computing Services con- located in the Kiewit Computation Center sists of and the Baker-Berry Library. The school also N Academic Computing provides extensive computing facilities for N Administrative Computing faculty, graduate students, and researchers, N Computing Support including several multiprocessor Unix and N Technical Services Linux servers for computational, statistical, Academic Computing focuses on provid- and visualization applications. ing services to the student and faculty popu- lation. It includes three subgroups. The Drivers of Dartmouth’s Academic Consulting Services group pro- Wireless Deployment vides general consulting assistance to fac- Dartmouth’s wireless initiative began ulty and staff. The Research Computing early in the fall of 2000 with a series of small group supports and develops computing department-level pilot programs in the En- applications and information resources with gineering and Computer Science depart- a primary focus on supporting research. The ments as well as parts of the student union Curricular Computing group assists the and library. While Computing Services had Dartmouth faculty in the use of information some involvement in the wireless initiative, 2
  7. 7. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 it was by and large a decentralized effort, campus. According to Larry Levine, Direc- enabled by the departments’ willingness to tor of Computing, the core value proposi- take ownership in the early stages. This tion for wireless was its ability to enable meant not only installation, maintenance, networking for everybody, everywhere. “We and management of the 20 to 30 access made the case that wireless would produce points (APs) that were initially deployed, but abundant benefits to the overall academic also providing early funding from depart- process,” said Levine. “For faculty, we saw ment budgets. clear value for both teaching and research.” Since Dartmouth’s wireless initiative Under Levine’s vision, the role of started out as a “bottom up” deployment, Dartmouth’s IT organization was to work many factors are cited as drivers. However, with faculty to facilitate innovation, but the one basic driver common to all was the leave it to faculty to drive innovation. increasing rate of laptop computer owner- While presenting the benefits of wire- ship in both the student and faculty popu- less in the lofty terms of the overall com- lations. For instance, from 1999 to 2001, puting and communications environment, the laptop share of computers purchased by Computing Services also sought to provide students through the campus computer practical demonstrations. In this way, key store rose from 27 percent to 45 percent to Dartmouth decision makers (principally the 70 percent. (At present, approximately 40 provost) could see the value of wireless in percent of undergraduate students own a action. In addition, alumni from various IT laptop.) Coupled with the fact that all sectors who serve as advisors to laptops sold in 2001 were factory-equipped Dartmouth’s IT environment strongly en- with wireless cards, a consensus began to dorsed the notion of a wireless campus. emerge that wireless computing was becom- In October 2000, the provost gave the ing a viable option on campus. green light to expanding the initiative under Within Dartmouth’s Thayer School of the condition that most of the deployment Engineering, the deployment of wireless was be completed by spring of 2001. Underlying seen as a low-cost means of expanding com- this speedy timetable was the idea that the puting resources for its 400 undergraduate sooner a leading-edge wireless environment and 150 graduate students. As enrollment was established, the sooner Dartmouth’s stu- in the school grew, the School of Engineer- dents and faculty would begin deriving ben- ing could not accommodate—for reasons efits. This, in turn, would provide Dartmouth related to both cost and physical space— an opportunity to showcase these benefits the demand for more workstations. The to the broader academic community. Indeed, logic of providing wireless access in Engi- the increasing press coverage and buzz cre- neering was further buttressed by the fact ated by the issue of campus wireless were that students in technical disciplines are factors in Dartmouth’s decision to move more likely to use laptops and thus would ahead aggressively. be well positioned to take advantage of it. Dartmouth’s pilot deployments were Wireless Deployment judged a clear success by virtue of their popu- Issues larity with students and faculty. Determined In planning for its wireless expansion, to build on this success, staff from Levine’s team consulted with schools (for ex- Computuing Services began discussions with ample, Carnegie Mellon University) that the Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs already had advanced wireless implemen- about making wireless ubiquitous across the tations, with the aim of sharing best prac- EDUCAUSE CENTER FOR APPLIED R ESEARCH 3
  8. 8. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 tices and lessons learned. The most valuable was seen as a more stable player. The most feedback related to network topology, espe- important factor working in Cisco’s favor was cially the placement and configuration of its willingness to underwrite a major share of wireless APs. Of particular interest were is- Dartmouth’s infrastructure costs through do- sues surrounding “edge effects”—specifi- nations and deep discounts. The influence of cally, understanding how wireless networks a large contingent of Dartmouth alumni within behaved at the boundaries of coverage ar- Cisco also played a major role in the deal. eas between access points. The issue of edge On the standards front, Levine saw IEEE effects was most relevant to how wireless 802.11b as the most practical near-term op- end-user devices “reassociate” (hand-off) tion. “802.11b was the most well-understood, from one AP to another. One of the key les- most prevalent technology at the time we sons in this area, noted Levine, is the impor- deployed wireless,” noted Levine. “We found tance of calibrating the transmission power it to be a robust and easy-to-deploy technol- of APs in order to limit instability between ogy, with good end-user experiences.” “subnets” or coverage zones. “A message While currently examining the next gen- that came through loud and clear was that eration of standards, Dartmouth has voiced AP placement is more of an art than a sci- early support for deploying 802.11g (versus ence,” said Levine. “We learned that when 802.11a) by virtue of its support for 802.11b. it comes to signal power, less can be more— The major issue driving the move to the next which wasn’t intuitive to us at first.” standard will be increased user demands for In the weeks leading up to the roll-out, higher bandwidth and collaboration. Computing Services took a hands-on ap- proach to AP placement, with teams fan- Funding Wireless ning out across the campus to identify the Dartmouth’s wireless expansion was best locations. These teams—composed of originally projected to cost approximately staff and students using laptops, APs, and $400,000, with funds provided by the pro- walkie-talkies—employed a trial-and-error vost and donations from Cisco. Going for- method that involved measuring signal ward, Dartmouth has rolled the cost of strengths under different placement options. maintaining the wireless network into its general IT budgeting practices. Under these Technology and Standards practices, Dartmouth’s five major budget Selection centers (consisting of its three professional Another key lesson Dartmouth learned schools, the Office of Residential Life, and from peer institutions was that wireless stan- all other areas) are charged on a cost-per- dards had not fully evolved. For Dartmouth’s port basis. Wireless costs, which include planners this implied that, for the immediate added support costs, are embedded in these future, a single-vendor solution made the most cost-per-port estimates. sense. At the outset of the project, Dartmouth had short-listed Lucent, Cisco, and 3Com. Al- Profile of Dartmouth’s though Lucent’s WaveLAN AP was used in the Wireless Deployment initial trial, Lucent was dropped from consid- Dartmouth’s wireless network provides eration due largely to delays in delivering its 100 percent coverage through a network next-generation wireless local-area network of 476 Cisco Aironet APs. These include a (WLAN) products. Cisco, on the other hand, mix of APs powered over the network was viewed favorably by virtue of its recent (through injectors) and separately powered acquisition of Aironet (a WLAN vendor) and units. Dartmouth’s wireless network extends 4
  9. 9. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 over 161 buildings and all major outdoor Levine sees the present weak security regime areas and off-campus facilities (the stadium, as a temporary—yet necessary—fact of life boathouse, and facilities). Dartmouth’s APs in what is now the “early phase” of operate chiefly under an omnidirectional Dartmouth’s wireless history. “We didn’t antenna scheme and are arrayed in a mi- want a solution where everyone has to reg- cro-cell pattern to enable frequency reuse ister a MAC [media access control] address, and to mitigate range-related problems. mostly because the MAC address can Each access point connects directly to a lo- change frequently,” explained Levine. “Ul- cal building’s wired subnet rather than into timately we’re moving toward using our a campus-wide wireless virtual LAN (VLAN). LDAP [lightweight directory access protocol] This was necessary due to the current archi- name directory for sign on, but a cross-ven- tecture of the campus backbone, and may dor standard does not exist for that right change when the campus wired network is now.” Levine does not see unauthorized upgraded during the coming year. The wire- access as a problem right now, although less network delivers 11 Mbps coverage. Dartmouth will nonetheless move swiftly While its network is effectively fully de- toward required login and other security ployed, Dartmouth’s wireless strategy is far measures. from static. Computing Services constantly Dartmouth does not plan to deploy a modifies the network to maximize perfor- campus-wide virtual private network (VPN) mance by either adjusting transmitter sig- because of the difficulties and complexi- nal strengths or moving APs. While ties of providing client software for all cli- Computing Services monitors the opera- ents. In the area of encryption, wired tional status of the wireless network re- equivalent privacy (WEP) is enabled and motely, most feedback comes from students optional on the wireless network. and faculty. Dartmouth chose to make it available be- cause it was supported by the access points, Applications Supported yet chose to make it optional because it By and large, Dartmouth’s wireless appli- was not supported by all wireless cards. cations mirror those used on the wired net- work. Among general-purpose applications, Wireless Usage messaging, Web browsing, and productivity Patterns applications constitute the most widely used At present, wireless use on campus falls applications. Within the Thayer School of En- under two broadly defined categories: gen- gineering, key applications supported (both eral-purpose access (the vast majority) and wired and wireless) include computer-aided targeted, customized wireless applications. design (CAD) applications such as Based on incidence of use, the most com- ProENGINEER and MathLab. Likewise, at the mon usage of wireless is for student-to-stu- Tuck School of Business, students use wire- dent and student-to-professor e-mail, less to access e-mail, the Web, and a com- principally through Dartmouth’s BlitzMail prehensive array of intranet services. messaging platform (discussed below). This is followed closely by Web browsing, includ- Wireless Security Profile ing the use of the Web to conduct library- At present, Dartmouth’s wireless network based research. Some other general security is token at best. To access the wire- observations about wireless usage on the less network, a user needs to enter a non– Dartmouth campus, drawn from a March user-specific service set identifier (SSID). 2002 study, follow: EDUCAUSE CENTER FOR APPLIED R ESEARCH 5
  10. 10. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 N Roaming is limited, with most users lim- lecture environments, students are very of- iting their activities to a few key sites in ten not actively engaged, since taking notes their daily routine. amounts to passively receiving and storing N Overall, residential activity dominates, information,” said Jernstedt. “This approach with most usage coming from residence provides students with truly interactive ex- hall rooms, even though all residence perience, thus increasing the overall quality halls are also wired. of the time spent in the classroom.” N Residential and social-space use is heavier Jernstedt’s wireless application was derived in the evening hours, academic and ad- from an older wired system that had proven ministrative usage is highest during the unmanageable due to the need to string wires day, and library-based use is spread more in the classroom. The emergence of suitable evenly. wireless technology allowed Jernstedt to get N Most sessions are short (with a median around these issues. A grant from Handspring, of 16 minutes), probably reflecting stu- which donated 80 Visor PDAs for the class, dents checking e-mail at periodic inter- helped him make it happen. vals. Jernstedt noted that while wireless in the N Buildings with large lecture halls and the classroom can lead to distraction in classes Baker-Berry Library have the most con- with low levels of engagement, the converse centrated activity, implying the need to holds true in classes with good engagement. configure APs accordingly. “When the class is taught in an engaging The next two sections profile two of the manner, the issue of wireless distraction is a more prominent department-specific wire- non-issue,” stated Jernstedt. “Wireless less applications deployed at Dartmouth, tends to amplify the existing climate of learn- one fostering engagement and the other, ing in a particular classroom—not change collaboration. its direction.” Increasing Engagement Fueling Team-based through Wireless Collaboration One of the earliest and most innovative Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Thayer uses of wireless at Dartmouth involved PDAs, School of Engineering, an early pioneer, has enabling all students to simultaneously re- woven wireless tightly into its curriculum. spond to a professor’s question. Under the Some of the more common applications in- application, which was developed by G. clude using PDAs to download course-re- Christian Jernstedt, professor of psychologi- lated materials and lecture notes, and to cal and brain sciences, students can direct view relevant Web content (such as the lat- their answers to a Jernstedt question onto est semiconductor technology from IBM). a large screen. The application also enables Engineering has deployed wireless to make Jernstedt to continually ask students ques- the learning process more compelling. tions during class and have every student Ted Cooley, Director of Computing for answer every question (with anonymity the Thayer School of Engineering, also sees where appropriate). an ideal platform for supporting research. Jernstedt sees the main benefit of his “Wireless enables students to work more application as a marked increase in students’ productively in a laboratory setting because level of engagement in the classroom expe- it leverages the inherent collaborative rience. “Research shows that in traditional strengths of wireless and the teamwork ori- 6
  11. 11. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 entation that tends to prevail in a research Some key observations on the impact of environment,” said Cooley. “Students can wireless messaging follow: input data as they generate it, download N Scheduling. Wireless messaging allows data to the laptop, crunch numbers, and students to better “fine tune” their write their laboratory report in real time. schedules because it enables a much That’s a real improvement in efficiency.” shorter planning horizon. This affects Cooley also pointed to the more general both the academic sphere (for example, benefits of wireless in the classroom—most how study groups congregate and inter- notably the efficiency with which professors act) and the social sphere. One seren- can deliver data to students. “Wireless ben- dipitous finding was that intensive wire- efits the teaching process because it allows less messaging users often elected to students to focus less on transcribing lec- keep their planning horizons short ture content and more on learning through (hours) and avoid excessive longer-term compelling presentation,” explained Cooley. scheduling commitments. This is seen as “But to capitalize on wireless’s capabilities, a reflection of the greater flexibility af- instructors will need to change their teach- forded by wireless messaging. Some ing styles—enabling more flexibility and flu- other common scheduling-related mes- idity in the student-teacher exchange.” saging practices include sending “persis- Examples cited by Cooley include the down- tent” e-mail to oneself and receiving loading of class notes, so students can go event notifications via BlitzMail. along with—and make annotations to—a N Collaboration. Wireless messaging has presentation as a professor delivers it. made it easier for work groups to col- laborate on projects. Message threads Gauging the Impact are seen as a useful way of tracking the of Wireless history, direction, and flow of a subject While still a relatively new phenomenon, matter discussion. wireless has already had a marked impact N More intensive, but less intrusive, mes- on communication, learning, and teaching saging. Wireless messaging leads to practices across the university. Of these three more intensive (that is, frequent) mes- domains, communications practices—stu- saging than would occur using cell dent-to-student and student-to-professor— phones (the equivalent channel for ubiq- has undergone the most significant uitous messaging). In short, students feel evolution since the introduction of wireless. unconstrained in sending frequent (or re- Not surprisingly, the frequency and ease with current) e-mails without inducing “mes- which messages can be checked and sent sage fatigue.” enabled (and catalyzed) this evolution. N RSVP. The pervasiveness of messaging Discussing their use of wireless on cam- has given rise to a “messaging etiquette” pus, Dartmouth undergraduate students on the Dartmouth campus, the most saw messaging (via the BlitzMail system) as important element of which is a prompt having the most pervasive impact on their response to messages. academic and social lives. The common In addition to messaging, wireless has theme cutting across the different uses of also led to an increase in students’ mobility wireless messaging is an increase in control as they conduct nonmessaging wireless ap- of their social and academic agendas. plications. While the ability to do remote EDUCAUSE CENTER FOR APPLIED R ESEARCH 7
  12. 12. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 work is more a function of portable com- tors have more flexibility as to where or when puting capability (like having a laptop), the they answer students questions (in the of- wireless component provides students with fice, at home, in class, or while traveling). the all-important ability to stay “plugged in.” Professor Cooley sees the use of wire- Among students interviewed, one of the key less messaging as a variant on the customer values of wireless computing is the ability relationship management (CRM) model. to perform work in a common-area setting, “Like CRM, messaging allows me to address such as the Green or in social and dining more routine queries as they come in so that spaces. In the words of one student, wire- I can focus on more involved inquiries or less computing breaks the trade-off between problems during office hours,” said Cooley. having to get work done and being around “Overall, it makes my office hours more valu- peers. “With a wireless laptop, students can able and manageable.” now work in a social setting, which is seen The second key benefit for faculty has as very desirable,” said the student. “Over- been the feedback that wireless inquiries all, it’s a better experience because there’s provide. Professors can infer from the con- more freedom and happiness in the work tent of messages which areas or subjects process.” Ironically, students working in so- need clarification. More broadly, professors cial settings point to the need for music to can use this feedback as a way to reshape drown out background or crowd noise—a their teaching curriculum. need satisfied by downloading streaming music via their wireless laptop. Lessons Learned Wireless is also seen as a powerful tool Many of Dartmouth’s lessons learned in library research, with the “killer app” be- relate to technology or deployment issues. ing research in the stacks and accessing of Among the more practical observations is digital media (such as netLibrary, which lets the need to more accurately account for students obtain digital versions of certain electrical and wiring costs in the develop- books). Under one of the more collabora- ment of the wireless infrastructure. tive scenarios, students can find research Dartmouth far outspent its original budget materials via the Web, mark it, and forward ($400,000) largely because wiring costs (the it either to themselves or to others on their need to prepare sites for APs) far exceeded research team. original expectations. However, more than Wireless has also radically changed the 100 APs were donated by Dartmouth alumni way students communicate with their pro- at Cisco and by the Dartmouth Alumni As- fessors by making such communication vir- sociation of Silicon Valley, which greatly tually 24 × 7. For students, the key benefit helped in keeping the project a financial has been increased accessibility and faster success. problem solving, as well as a more conve- Ted Cooley sees a broader lesson learned nient and efficient way to schedule time with during Dartmouth’s wireless initiative as the professors. For faculty, the key benefits are need to acknowledge the subsidiary role of two-fold. First, wireless messaging improves wireless vis-à-vis the wired network. “It’s im- management because instructors can bulk portant in the design stage to realize that mail answers to a class as a whole, share ques- wireless should not be considered a replace- tion threads, and so forth. Second, instruc- ment for the wired network,” said Cooley. 8
  13. 13. Wireless Networking in Higher Education Case Study 9, 2002 “In our case, it’s truly a supplemental net- The Future of Wireless work—with bandwidth capabilities being at Dartmouth the major factor.” With its infrastructure roll-out practically On the usage front, a key lesson learned complete, Dartmouth plans to focus on the is that students often choose wireless net- continuing task of optimizing coverage— work access even when wired network ports adding, adjusting, and reconfiguring APs as are available. Stan Pyc, IT Director for the needed. Consistent with its long-held policy, Tuck School of Business, pointed out that Computing Services will continue to work even though Tuck’s facilities are some of the with Dartmouth’s academic departments to most heavily wired on campus, MBA stu- facilitate their plans for using wireless to en- dents find the wireless network very conve- hance teaching practices. nient. “All Tuck students are required to own The two biggest items on Dartmouth’s a notebook computer, and the wireless net- wireless agenda—likely to take place over work enables them to move from room to the next 12 to 18 months—will be a move room very easily without regard for the avail- toward a more robust security framework ability of wired network ports. It’s amazing and a migration to the next-generation to observe just how popular the wireless WLAN standard (most likely 802.11g). The network has become in such a short period latter anticipates the significant growth in of time,” observed Pyc. “All of the students higher bandwidth activities, such as stream- arriving next fall will have notebook com- ing video, that is likely to characterize puters with wireless networking, so we ex- Dartmouth’s wireless network pect usage to double.” Pyc sees the main challenge arising from this projected increase as the management of expectations regard- ing network performance. EDUCAUSE CENTER FOR APPLIED R ESEARCH 9