In January this year, Malaysia's Sunway University revealed why it needed a smart WiFi system: this is how the team implemented it.
Today, the University's smart WiFi system serves more than 17,000 students and staff based in a number of buildings at the Subang Jaya campus. (Part of the Sunway Education Group, Sunway University is a two-campus university in Malaysia, providing education to more than 16,000 students. More than 1,000 staff and faculty members are also present on site.)
In Computerworld Malaysia's initial news report, Tan Siao Yuan, senior manager, IT Operations at Sunway Education Group said that during the initial stage, tests were completed with a number of WiFi providers.
"We tested for coverage, ease of configuration and performance of switches and controllers," said Tan. "Ruckus offered the strongest WiFi signals in the high-density areas we were testing, and it integrated perfectly with our existing systems."
The deployment by Ruckus Wireless, now part of Brocade, included 450 Ruckus ZoneFlex R700 802.11ac wave 2 Smart WiFi access points (APs) at the University's Subang Jaya campus in Selangor, Malaysia.
During the announcement of the rollout in January, Michael Lok, who is managing director, ASEAN at Ruckus Wireless, commented: "We also know that university environments can pose challenges for IT managers, with thousands of students using their own devices on campus to access bandwidth-heavy services," said
Computerworld Malaysia now asks both Sunway University and Ruckus Wireless (now part of Brocade) to talk a little more deeply about the rollout.
First up is Tony Lee, director IT Services, for the Sunway Education Group.
Briefly, what were the business objectives behind choosing to work with Ruckus Wireless' solution?
A number of years ago, we identified that wireless and mobile would be the way ahead to build a teaching and learning infrastructure for our students.
We are seeing a rapid increase in student numbers as well as continuing expansion of our campus facilities, and we realised that we needed to implement a strong and reliable WiFi connection across the campus, without compromising on security, of course.
Ruckus provided spontaneous, self-started beam-forming Wi-Fi in high density areas, which makes for an easier configuration process. In addition, there is seamless integration of the Ruckus controller into our Microsoft IT management system.
Please detail some of the methods you used to figure out the business benefits arising from this solution?
We focused on a few critical performance specifications in order to decide on the best appropriate solution for our main campus.
These included high-density coverage performance, configuration process, as well as the performance of the controllers.
Several solutions were considered, but we found Ruckus offered the strongest useable WiFi signal in high-density areas and their solution integrated well with our existing systems. They provided good Access Point coverage, a secured network, simple configuration process, as well as high performance of controllers. Their AP performance in high density areas were very impressive.
What short term and long term business benefits do you hope to realise with the Ruckus solution and approach?
For business benefits in the short term, we hope to see significant improvement in the user experience with much better WiFi signal in the high-density areas on campus.
In the long term, we want to move majority of our services and systems to the cloud, which means our current wireless and mobile infrastructure has to be robust.
With Ruckus, we have created a consistent high-bandwidth delivery infrastructure that allows us to deliver the next generation learning methods. As the backbone of our communications, and because of its coverage and consistent quality, we have seen our users grow from 4,000 to 10,000 concurrent users. Today, we are delivering 50 times more bandwidth.
Would you talk through some timeline details of how long you took to (a) identify the problem and select the solution (b) to plan and implement the solution (c) post implementation training, and so on?
It took us a few weeks to identify the issues of density and signal coverage.
My team in Sunway Education spent about a month on detailed heat maps and proof of concept testing. It took us another couple of months for to complete the final planning and implementation.
One critical factor that attributed to the success of this partnership was that skills and resources of Ruckus, the Reseller and Distributors were made available to the Sunway Education engineers during the entire process.
Our engineers were able to acquire the know-how on operating and tuning the system post-implementation.
How did you manage the workflow changes?
We are very pleased with the Ruckus controller for being easy to configure and manage. One feature allowed a scheduled turn-on and turn-off for WiFi signals on a daily basis - which we find particularly helpful for the wireless management process in our International School, where they decreed WiFi is restricted during certain hours in some areas. We see more and more of our staff and students enjoying great Wi-Fi connectivity across campus using their own devices.
What were some of the features of the solution that you felt were not right for your company and that you had to customise?
Keeping the wireless system configuration option simple was a key factor in our selection.
However, in some situations, it will be useful to include more granular control and configuration option that would allow us to optimize the solution. For example, to allow further customization of the login page in the controller.
Also, there was no option to tune the AP to only allow connection from client device that detect an acceptable/defined signal level.
What's your advice for other organisations considering a similar move?
WiFi technology standards are continually being developed and enhanced, and there is a new standard almost every couple of years.
Pick a WiFi vendor with a proven history of following the development and release products that adhere to the latest standard with little delay.
Beware the differences between consumer and enterprise grade products. Reliability, ease of control and management are very important factors when one has hundreds of APs to manage.
For education institutions, it is important for the WiFi system to handle high-density and high-loads.
The ability to deliver high-speed WiFi is critical as video and bandwidth-intensive contents are now mainstream.
Incidentally, have all the stakeholders responded to this implementation?
We have received plenty of positive feedback from various stakeholders such as our students and faculty members for the high-speed and high-quality WiFi connection; it is not always easy to achieve both at the same time.
On the IT aspects, we are satisfied with our experience with Ruckus for both the product and for a good support team from pre- to post-deployment.
How is this implementation a significant move forward in the company's strategies for the future?
The Sunway campus is home to more than 18,000 students and staff members and we are expecting this number to grow. Having high-quality wireless connectivity across buildings on our campus is of utmost importance to our mission of deploying education technology.
The deployment of Ruckus solutions is allowing us to deploy smarter technologies as we look towards providing better teaching and learning both students and staff members in the Sunway campus. We are rolling out similar facilities in our other institutions and campuses.
What are the next steps along the road?
We are in the business of teaching and learning and WiFi is a backbone building block that allows us to widen our repertoire of services and systems that our business runs on.