Alabama A&M Overhauls Campus With Aruba Wireless, Gives Professors iPads

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor — May 29, 2012

Aruba Networks, Inc. says that Alabama A&M University (AAMU) is deploying a mobile access network based on the Aruba Mobile Virtual Enterprise (MOVE) architecture to provide secure, reliable wireless coverage to students, staff and faculty. The new wireless network, which is being deployed in three phases, is designed to provide users with pervasive access across the entire campus using their desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

With a student enrollment of approximately 5,200 and about 1,000 faculty and staff, AAMU has grown quickly, moving from a ranking of 28th to 18th in the U.S. News & World Report's 2012 college rankings. According to Greg Marrow, chief information officer for Alabama A&M University Information Technology Services, more students are evaluating the university than ever before and, as a result, AAMU believes that it is critical to provide innovative technology solutions that will help attract and retain students as well as assist them in graduating.

According to Marrow, one of the university's primary goals is to ensure that students have even better wireless network performance than they have at home and that they are able to access the network with the device of their choice. The university also wants to give students the ability to log into its learning management systems to view their personal records, academic information and class assignments from their dorm rooms, not just common areas within the residence halls. It also recognizes the need to accommodate the growing number of mobile devices on the network including iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Using the Aruba Networks 6000 Series Mobility Controller, approximately 260 Aruba AP-105 access points and the Aruba AirWave Management System, the university is confident that it will achieve all of these goals.

AAMU recently completed the first phase of its Aruba wireless deployment, delivering access to all ten of its residence halls. Phase two of the deployment, with an estimated completion date of August 2012, will focus on the academic buildings across campus, ensuring that wireless is available in the classrooms. Phase three, with a projected completion date of December 2012, will enable wireless in all outdoor common areas across campus.

"We probably see about 1,000 clients on the network during peak times," said Marrow. "It was critical that we be able to deliver reliable coverage for students, who are among the most demanding users and who want to connect with the devices they bring with them from home. The Aruba Network solution is easy to deploy and manage, delivers great performance and with AirWave, we can keep track of and manage all the new mobile devices hitting the network. This benefits our students, as well as our IT department."

Distance learning is a key initiative for AAMU. Marrow noted that about 85% of faculty members currently use Blackboard Learn for online education delivery.

"Students definitely need access to course materials from wherever they are on campus and are increasingly enrolling in online-only courses," he added. "We currently offer more than 30 courses online and plan to launch our first full online degree program in management this August. Obviously, the wireless network is a crucial component in the evolution of our online and distance learning strategy."

The university has also implemented a pilot deployment of iPads. Professors are using the tablets to upload materials to the learning management system in the classrooms in real-time, so students can access them during class. The information is transmitted wirelessly and displayed on classroom smart boards, eliminating the need for projectors.

Marrow noted that in this current pilot, the speed of the wireless connection is actually better than the wired network connection previously used, and Aruba's self-healing technology, which enables one AP to take over for another should it become congested with too many connections, helps the university ensure reliability for users. Marrow also said that the Aruba solution fits well into the university's longer term plans, including their intention to run voice over the wireless network.

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