On Campus: Extending the Network

Time and again, I've seen duplicative networks, servers, and other gear sprinkled around pre-K to 12 school campuses -- even sometimes finding two vendors providing the same services at different buildings.

While converging infrastructure comes at a cost, keeping the disassociated pieces can cost even more. Dysfunctional environments can hamper communications, as staff members can't easily reach out to each other if they're not on the same systems, domains, or networks. Additionally, these environments can lead to increased costs and reduced productivity. The same can just as easily happen within enterprises, as I've observed when internal organization charts and policies get in the way of collaboration.

This past summer infrastructure issues came to the fore in a "one campus, one network" project with which I'm involved. The issue involved installing optical multimode fiber (OM3) between two buildings. I had to use a long screwdriver to poke around, literally, in the dirt as I tried to find a buried pull box. The pull box had been buried next to a palm tree, as you can see in the field drawing below.

Heat Mapping in Florida
Adtran ProCloud provided heat maps of the buildings that needed Wi-Fi coverage. Heat mapping is hugely beneficial in providing advanced discovery of cabling challenges you can address early on to have cleaner installation. Additionally, using a heat map helps in rightsizing wireless LAN cable plant and gives a great sense of where cables need to be physically located.

In assessing the infrastructure disconnected from the school campus, we found maintenance deficiencies in patching, updating, and gear replacement -- all of which impacted user performance. We looked at each intermediate distribution frame, and before bringing in the fiber we changed the uninterruptible power supplies to included dual conversion, added a rack surge protection device, and created an inventory of new switches based on existing and future Wi-Fi and other network connections.

After installing the fiber, we installed aggregated pairs in the new switches, with virtual LANs matching the school segments. We later moved existing endpoints over to the new switches by group: workstations, printers/multifunction copiers, and telephones.

The church on campus now has network connectivity, via fiber, to the "FLC" building, which itself connects to the church administrative offices over fiber. This portion of the campus is still on a separate network, but we've accomplished the first goal of extending the network to the church. Now the network is supporting a network security camera system, and we'll eventually move the network video record to the school IT room. Church staff is now able to access network resources from whichever administrative office they'd like.

Sharing the Vision

Extending network services to other buildings is expensive and time consuming. When stakeholders share the overall vision, an end goal will materialize faster than when they disagree. In this particular case, we started work in February 2016, and I anticipate that this time next year we'll be installing outdoor Wi-Fi and revisiting any lack of coverage for campuswide Wi-Fi.

As the work progresses, we uncover other needs and issues that aren't being met or addressed. Administrators need to address shortfalls as they come along while not losing sight of the end goal -- i.e., one campus network. Of course, new issues to address also mean budget adjustments. Because of the nature of school campuses, funding is always an issue, and value-add engineering often comes into play and there can be trade-offs.

The Internet of Things is a significant driver for converged campus networks, as the many infrastructure systems already do or will depend on Internet access. These include HVAC, security, access control, media distribution, and other types of systems. Infrastructure is key, and while not knowing whether a pull box is to the right, center, or left of a palm tree, administrators and IT both need to have a clear vision of the network and how it will benefit all concerned.

The one campus, one network goal is exciting.

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