- Date: October 28, 2014
- Tag: Education
he University of Sharjah (UoS) was established in 1997. Today it supports over 14,000 students, which makes its network infrastructure fundamental to the running of the organisation, delivering critical applications to both students and university employees.
The university is keen to attract students from all over the region, which means high quality IT services and 24/7 mobile access to applications are also critical from a business perspective. When the legacy network struggled to cope with changing demands from students, UoS recently upgraded its wireless network infrastructure that is designed to deliver high reliability and operational efficiency for the most demanding environments.
he university has been on wireless for ten years – the initial implementation was carried out in 2004 and 2005 when 500 Access Points were deployed across all campuses,” says Osama Ahmed Hamzeh, Director of Information Technology Centre, UoS. “Today, its wireless network supports 1500 access points spanning 11 campuses, 57 buildings and an area of 28 square kilometres.”
Out of these, 700 were procured last year and 500 were replaced earlier this year with the help of EMW, which enabled 85 academic programmes to go live on Blackboard as part of the Learning Management System.
“Business-wise we needed to update the infrastructure because it wasn’t keeping up with where we needed it to take us. We wanted to modernise it so we could guarantee high quality IT services to the university. The implementation of Learning Management System was another crucial factor why we updated the network,” says Hussam Saleh, Head of Infrastructure and Operations, UoS.
EMW, which was charged with the task, made sure that there was only minimal downtime during the network upgrade process. “EMW knows how our working environment is – we have standards for cabling, patch panel so the infrastructure is ready. When changing cables, two access points are changed simultaneously so that when one is down, the traffic is routed to the other one, minimising downtime,” says Hamzeh.
The infrastructure revamp challenged the strength of signals given the layout of buildings in the university campus. The buildings are either square-shaped and equipped with four access points, dome-shaped and hexagonal on the inside with six access points or hall-shaped with two or three access points.
In May, 50 to 60 access points were installed every day with only about an hour of daily downtime. “Due to summer vacations, some buildings were not in session, which made it much easier to replace access points in these. When replacing the access points, the IT team had to make sure that the traffic passed through layers of IPS and firewall protection to make sure it was fully filtered and inspected,” adds Hamzeh.
Unsurprisingly, network security was the top concern for the university’s IT team during the whole process and IP was segregated throughout the campus while replacing access points. For example, student labs are on a different IP while the university has separate VLANs for students and data centres. This makes sure that students don’t have access to the registration servers and resolves all other security vulnerabilities. The core network switch runs on two layers of Fortinet firewall and the IT team uses load Balancers to make sure best practices are pursued when it comes to mitigating user access to the core network.
Looking back at the strength of the network infrastructure, Hamzeh proudly mentions that the entire campus runs on a redundant wireless network with the core network switch utilising 10 GB and network firewall on 40 GB. The core network switch runs on one-fourth of bandwidth speed as it is isolated from the rest of the network due to security reasons.
“Today university courses are announced on the run. The IT team is currently supporting a total of 16,000 users – 14,500 students and 1,500 faculty and faculty. The WAN is further bifurcated amongst schools so a student’s IP can be traced to the school he or she belongs to,” says Hamzeh.
The university’s infrastructure is heterogeneous in nature. “We have made sure that all the different technologies in the network are compatible and one bug doesn’t take down the network because we don’t have a uniform system,” says Hamzeh. As part of its longer-term networking strategy, the university has plans to move to the cloud to take advantage of the flexible and robust platform it offers to keep pace with the growing demands from students and spikes in traffic.
Summarising the team’s strategic outlook for the next five years, Hamzeh says with confidence that the existing infrastructure will soon be ready for BYOD. “With a solid network footing, we are now ready to consider adding a BYOD capability to the infrastructure. We are still in the planning phase as we will have to add access points – security becomes crucial as we have to be able trace and tackle any suspicious activity before it becomes a threat. Most importantly, BYOD demands adapting university applications to run on all screens – this is where Saas will come of use. Virtual classrooms and virtual desktop applications will also make use of Saas hosted on VMware. Procurement has been done. Implementation is on hold as users have to be educated first,” Hamzeh explained. Moving forward, the team is currently getting the infrastructure ready for a uniform security structure so that the security protocols in place can address proactively both internal and external breaches under one umbrella policy. “With EMW by our side, the possibility of such a comprehensive and futuristic learning environment doesn’t seem far,” Hamzeh adds.
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“Business-wise we needed to update the infrastructure because it wasn’t keeping up with where we needed it to take us. We wanted to modernise it so we could guarantee high quality IT services to the university. The implementation of Learning Management System was another crucial factor why we updated the network.”
EMW, which was charged with the task, made sure that there was only minimal downtime during the network upgrade process. “EMW knows how our working environment is – we have standards for cabling, patch panel so the infrastructure is ready. When changing cables, two access points are changed simultaneously so that when one is down, the traffic is routed to the other one, minimising downtime.”