Technology Blog

Choosing the Right Wi-Fi Solution

JoeKuzo
New Contributor

Quakertown Community School District, medium sized suburban K12 located about 1hr north of Philadelphia, had started its 1:1 laptop and BYOD initiative 5 years ago. Our existing wireless infrastructure was put in place slightly prior. It sufficed for the times, however, 5 years into our program we have seen an increase in devices both district-owned and personal. We see an increased use of bandwidth from web resources becoming more and more the norm. Testing is moving from paper to online. Books are moving from traditional bound texts to online e-books. Our current wireless just wasn’t meeting our growing needs so it was time to start evaluating and speaking with vendors and partners.

 

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Below are four critical decisions we had to make which I know most K12 districts will also face and need to evaluate.

 

  • Staying with current vendor versus rip and replace

One of the hardest things to do sometimes is to leave what you are comfortable with or a partner whom you worked with for many years. It is our job as IT Directors, CIOs, etc. to make educated decisions and evaluate everything on the market for the best interest of our stakeholders.

I had met with literally every vendor on the market and really narrowed my choices down to two with Aruba being one of them.

During the process of meeting and discussing our current environment with various vendors, Aruba stood out for a few reasons as a solution provider we wanted to work with. They took the time along with the partner to sit down and discuss where we are, where we wanted to be, and asked questions about our district, rather than simply pushing product which we saw from others. They provided a LONG list of other K12 districts from just our vicinity that showed their market penetration. References were of abundance and everyone we spoke to had given praise. Other vendors could not provide this scale of references, so it was assuring to know we were moving in the direction of many other satisfied Aruba customers.

While the upfront cost may be a sticker shock to you when doing a rip and replace, comparing the cost of ownership over the term may surprise you. What I found out was that it was actually a cost savings in the long term doing a rip and replace by offsetting service costs. Don’t always take what you’re given at face value, dig deeper, you may be surprised what you find.

 

  • 802.11n versus 802.11ac

I’ve been seeing many districts replace 802.11n APs with the same. Although “n” APs may be slightly less cost, I fight to see the long term value in staying at “n”. I understand devices may not be running “ac” yet, or very few are, but in our environment the funding to complete a project like this comes once in many years, so to future proof our investment was my utmost concern. Not only will/do we see better performance out of our “n” clients on the “ac” APs, but we will reap the benefits as more “ac” clients come into our district. We were actually able to cut down on our overall number of APs through a better predictive study and post-deployment analysis which was enjoyable to see. These opportunities come once in many years, so it’s our duty to make sure we provide the best product for the long term value of our funding.

 

  • Controller versus cloud

The hot topic amongst the wireless community is everything going to the cloud. For some, the cloud can prove to be extremely beneficial by offsetting initial costs and rolling them into many years. However, for us, we knew we wanted to remain with controllers. Not only did we want more control over our environment and more troubleshooting ability, but also that in tight budget renewals keeping services up and running can be a tough pill to swallow. We ended up going with redundant 7220 controllers with 40G uplinks to each one. Considering we had a 1G uplink to one controller previously, this has removed a bottleneck in our environment. We are extremely happy with the performance we are seeing.

 

  • 1:1, BYOD and future proofing our environment

 

This ties right into future proofing your design and decisions for the unknown. We know that more and more devices will come into our buildings. That is not a question, but a fact. We don’t know what they will be in a year or two, but we do know we will be forced to support them. This is why we chose Aruba AP225 APs for our deployment. They will provide the capacity and growth we need in our environment for years to come.

We have just completed our districts deployment and so far we have had little to no issues and performance has been notably improved on existing g and n clients. We have little ac clients at the moment, however, they will grow after this school year. Our partner, Comm Solutions, was top notch and stayed on top of everything as we rolled out of deployment. Aruba’s team as well is always in contact making sure things are running smoothly and we are satisfied with our purchase. Overall, this has been one of the most pleasurable acquisitions and large scale deployments I have been a part of.

 

Joe Kuzo – Has worked in Quakertown Community School District since 2001 and has recently been appointed to the Director of Technology for the district. Our district serves about 5500 students and supports roughly 7000 district owned devices. This does not include our BYOD initiative devices. Quakertown Comm. School District has been noted by such publications and websites as Forbes, District Administration, Tech & Learning, Digital Learning Day, EdTech Review, and THE Journal for their excellent cyber and blended learning models. We are also one of few districts who are part of “Project Red” http://www.projectred.org

 

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