K-12 School District Makes Big Move to Wireless, Giving Students, Faculty and IT Staff Hassle Free Connectivity

Article excerpt

Spring Independent School District (Spring ISD), north of Houston, Texas, is known for its innovation in technology to enhance education. In fact, Spring ISD installed a two-way fiber optic ring by burying fiber and connecting each school with Gigabit Ethernet in 1999 and has deployed 2,300 IP phones along with a converged voice, video and data network for use of faculty, administrative staff and students. As a next step, the school board wanted to provide one-to-one, continuous computer and network access to every single one of the 27,000 students in the district.

The Spring ISD IT staff knew from experience that dropping 30 to 35 Ethernet lines to each classroom was not feasible or economical. At $200 per drop, the cost was prohibitive. But with wireless it was a different story. Because Wi-Fi is extremely flexible and cost-effective, the IT staff quickly realized that 802.11 technology was the obvious choice, if it could be made truly secure and manageable from a singe point. The IT staff believed wireless could have a profound impact on school operations and student productivity. They were right.

But before choosing the right wireless solution, Spring ISD had three key concerns. Pete Davis, assistant network engineer, led the IT team responsible for the wireless implementation. "First and foremost, we wanted a "thin" AP-based system which could be centrally controlled and scaled to support the district's growth plans. The second priority was wireless security beyond merely link layer encryption. We required 802.11 a+b/g wireless access along with wireless intrusion detection and RF spectrum management across both the 2.4 and 5 Ghz bands from the same system. And third, whatever system we chose had to be extremely cost-effective. We had to find a way to operate within our existing allowable budget for now and the next few years."

With a strict set of requirements, Davis and his team considered a number of suppliers, but ultimately turned to Aruba. Only Aruba gave Davis and his team at Spring ISD a scalable modular WLAN switching system that offered a seamless overlay to the existing IP network without any physical or logical changes, multiple layers of wireless security and simultaneous support for thousands of users on a single Wi-Fi switch.

Spring ISD is implementing the Aruba-based wireless network in phases. In the first phase completed earlier this year, the district IT group deployed a single Aruba modular 5000 Wi-Fi switching system in its central office which included the full suite of Aruba security applications along with 75 dual-mode, dual-band Aruba 802.11a+b/g APs throughout the district for use in meeting and training areas for faculty. Additionally, SISD chose one school, Bammel Middle School, for a full implementation including 28 APs controlled from the single 5000 system. The district plans to provide every teacher in the district with a laptop with an integrated 802.11 a+b/g network interface card (NIC) by August 2004.

In the second phase, Spring ISD will issue every high school student a laptop and provide handheld devices with integrated Wi-Fi to middle and elementary school students so they can safely access a variety of programs and online resources. …