Like so many IT departments, Derek Moore’s lean staff is tasked with supporting a heterogeneous device environment that enables seamless connectivity, throughout indoor and outdoor spaces, for thousands of devices. Yet his organization’s legacy wireless system was struggling to keep up.
“Our BYOD and district-issued device counts skyrocketed from the time we installed our existing coverage-based WLAN,” explains Moore, CTO for the Palo Alto Unified School District. “Plus the vendor’s support for our aging product was insufficient, causing poor user experiences we were unable remedy.”
Excellence-focused Institution Chooses Aruba
Ranked among the top U.S. public school districts, 12,500-student PAUSD sought a high-performance Wi-Fi solution with streamlined management.
“Our decentralized strategy provides our approximately 800 classroom teachers autonomy over their curriculum choices,” says Moore of the Palo Alto, California, district. “This is key to our academic success but also creates a diverse environment to support.”
“Consequently, our network infrastructure must address the resulting technology needs and operate with minimal overhead to steward taxpayer funds while ensuring our IT staff can concentrate on providing critical applications and services,” he adds.
After evaluating options with the help of trusted local partner Dasher Technologies, PAUSD selected a comprehensive Gigabit Wi-Fi solution from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.
“Aruba provided the most complete solution,” Moore says. “It includes many innovations others didn’t have.”
ArubaOS 8 Boosts Efficiency, Reduces Costs
PAUSD’s new speedy and secure Wi-Fi enables teachers and learners to collaborate anywhere on campus while also delivering management efficiencies.
“The latest operating system, ArubaOS 8, supplies us with multiple new capabilities,” says Moore. “We’re excited about all of the advantages.”
According to Moore, Aruba’s latest operating system and its Mobility Master capabilities solve PAUSD’s most intractable management challenge.
“The biggest pain point with our previous solution was the inability to create a single network across our 18 campuses,” he says. “Instead, we were forced to configure and manage each of our campus as a separate network.”
Hierarchy + Mobility Master = Big win
Adopting Aruba not only enabled unifying all of PAUSD’s sites onto a single network, but also leveraging the hierarchical, multi-tiered architecture in ArubaOS 8 for simplifying and streamlining the network configuration process and minimizing repetition.
“ArubaOS 8 and Mobility Master solved our headaches,” he says. “Instead of administrating 18 separate networks, we can visualize and manage our entire system as a single unified Wi-Fi network. This creates a multitude of efficiencies, which is a big win for us.”
“For example,” he continues, “we can drop a certificate into the top of the hierarchy and Mobility Master automatically applies it to both our controllers, which are clustered for balancing traffic loads. Then, configurations are carried throughout all 18 locations.”
Always online with Live Upgrade
PAUSD also appreciates ArubaOS 8’s Live Upgrade capability, for in-service updates, and innovations in AirGroup for controlling shared devices such as printers and digital media players.
“For our (IT) staff to give their best during the day, they need good sleep,” Moore says. “Nobody’s going to miss applying updates in the middle of the night.”
Even the district’s Apple TVs operate better than before, reducing educational delays. “Accessing our Apple TVs is smooth,” says Moore. “It’s working great.”
Management Gold Standards: ClearPass & AirWave
Augmenting ArubaOS 8 for unifying network management are ClearPass, for access control, and AirWave for network optimization. They provide unparalleled visibility and control of PAUSD’s network for district-issued, BYOD and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
“ClearPass stands out from the rest,” Moore says. “It makes otherwise-burdensome access control tasks very easy and intuitive. The solution’s customizable role-based access gives us the ability to determine who has access to what.”
It’s a similar story for AirWave, notes Moore. “With AirWave we can see what our network is being used for, which builds on the exceptional capabilities in ClearPass,” he says. “This enables us to proactively identify potential hot spots and troubleshoot any issues quickly. Plus, we can provide district leadership and our board with intuitive reports to demonstrate what’s happening educationally.”
Serving 12K Users Daily
Most importantly, PAUSD’s new WLAN powers modern curriculum models as well as supporting new device policies and trends.
“In our high schools, this is the first year we’re offering Chromebooks to all grade levels,” Moore says. “About 70 percent of our students are utilizing the program, which is about 2,800 devices. That’s in addition to the BYOD devices students may bring to school.”
At the elementary and middle schools, PAUSD uses a cart-based model for classroom computing. “We have a mixture of Apple laptops, Chromebooks and iPads, depending upon teacher preferences,” says Moore.
Teachers rely heavily on Wi-Fi for infusing student engagement into their curriculum, Moore says. In addition, secondary school teachers are required to utilize PAUSD’s Schoology learning management platform daily, further contributing to wireless traffic.
“On any given day, we see device counts of about 12,000 on our network,” says Moore. “As curriculum and operational needs evolve, our WLAN can scale to 50,000 devices.”
Frustrations down, learning up
What’s most notable to teachers and learners is the vastly improved user experience, evidenced by the sudden drop in complaints after Aruba Wi-Fi went live.
“It’s eerily quiet, compared with before,” says Moore. “When we do get a help request, it’s something we can remedy and that’s exciting for us.”
On Deck: Self-Service IoT
With classroom needs met, the next frontier at PAUSD is streamlining IoT connections requested by various departments, notably maintenance services.
“Currently, we have IoT devices deployed for building controls and door locks,” Moore says. “We expect that to progress quickly as more facility innovations become available.”
To speed onboarding, while reducing IT overhead, PAUSD is exploring the capabilities in ClearPass for extending IoT onboarding self-service to maintenance staff and others deploying IoT units.
“Today, we’re experiencing IoT onboarding bottlenecks because new devices impact our IT staff,” says Moore. “We’re evaluating the addition of the ClearPass Onboard module. It would enable authorized users outside of IT to quickly add new devices self-sufficiently in a manner that supports our security and network management posture.”
It Just Works
Overall, PAUSD’s new WLAN enables the district to meet the ongoing needs of today and tomorrow.
“When we first installed wireless five years ago, it was nice to have,” says Moore. “Now, it’s an expectation.”
“Our Aruba solution not only eliminated our chronic management and user experience difficulties but also ensures our Wi-Fi operates like a utility in all of our classrooms,” he adds. “It just works.”