Friday, 21 October 2011

Busy months for wireless

I have been in a meeting this morning about the future of the wireless network. Where we are going, what we are hoping to do, the problems associated with achieving this.

The first point mentioned was to be involved from the start in new projects to make sure all new builds and refurbishments include wireless in their plans. That way, a few months down the line, we are not hacking away at new walls and ceilings and trying to get all the necessary risk assessments done again, but the facilities and cable routes are there from the start. Especially as one of the first things departments ask for when they go in is 'can we have wireless?'

A bit of forward thinking, putting in more sockets than we currently need to provide the potential for growth. A few years ago nobody expected the wireless network to have the potential to soon become the preferred network, who knows what will be happening in a few more years?

One of the major discussion topics in the meeting was the plan for complete coverage of the student accommodation. With the rise in tuition fees it has become a priority of this university to make sure we try to provide value for money and improve a lot of the services we offer in time for the start of the 2012 term. We have also seen a lot of students arrive with wireless only devices this year, such as Macbook Air's and tablets.

We currently have over 500 wireless access points, but with the expansion in to student residences this is likely to go up to nearly 1800.

With the increase in wireless usage up four times from the same point last year (which I am sure once it is in the residences there will be iPod's, Xbox's, PS3's, Nintendo DS's and all sorts connecting will only get worse) we have been running out of IP addresses. We have increased the addresses in the subnet four times recently and we are already running at 91% utilisation again.

We have requested more IP addresses but this has been denied so we are going to be upsetting some departments while we, unfortunately, have some disruption as we hack at their subnets trying to get some address space back. As we do this though we may discover some problems with servers and software - something to think about. It may also be necessary to do this work when the university is closed. So anyone fancy working between Christmas and New Year?

There was some discussion about moving to IPv6 but there are still a lot of places on the web which people want to access that do not support it and a few devices around which are the same. There is options for public and private addressing, tunnelling and NAT, but our network manager seems to think there will then be a problem with finding people suspected of copyright, as we are required to act upon requests and complaints sent to us as part of our agreement with our network provider. I also think he is worried it could all go wrong as it involves a major change that has largely been untested on our network.

An option with regards addressing though was to move all printers and a lot of the staff to private addresses rather than having public addresses. Hopefully the staff won't be doing anything which would mean they would be needed to be tracked and if people want to print from home they can VPN in. Although anything to stop them printing is often seen as a good thing anyway... environment... green... and all that.

We have a few buildings that are now fully covered, and lists of lots more that could need doing. We have got the majority of teaching spaces and student areas covered. We also have started to test external wireless to cover beer-gardens, café's, benches and anywhere else a student (or member of staff?) might want to sit (when it is warm enough) and get some work done.

One of the considerations though is do we offer eduroam? Or do we direct them through a different service, maybe with speed restrictions and packet shaping?

We have just recently been swapping all our Cisco 1200's out for 1240's, so all our access points should be wireless n capable with 5 GHz antenna.

So the plans are: lots of surveys and tests, lots of installs, lots of changes to IP addressing and less than a year to get it done... on top of every other project and day to day job and fault that comes in.

At least it is interesting... well... to some people it is. Certainly better than some of the jobs that come through the helpdesk.

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