The Fairfax County school system has one of the largest Wi-Fi networks in the United States, with over 7,100 Cisco access points in operation.
"Theyre using it to monitor and configure and manage their wireless network infrastructure," said AirWave Chief Operating Officer Greg Murphy.
"They use it to discover access points, apply configurations and security policies across the wireless infrastructure, and theyre using it to monitor the performance of the wireless network."
Murphy said that the county school IT department helped with the development of the new suite. One key area of focus with the new suite was the management portal.
"Weve developed the Executive Portal which allows them to display real-time information and historical information, so if the CIO of the school district wanted to know how many users are connected right now, she could look up the information on a Web page," he said.
Murphy said that this allows people who need to know how the wireless network is being used and how its performing to find out without having access to the management tool itself.
Murphy also noted that there are 164,000 students enrolled in the Fairfax school system, and about 10,000 of them are using the wireless network at any one time.
"Were allowing our kids to have access to the Internet from anywhere, any location," said Maribeth Luftglass, CIO of the Fairfax County Public Schools.
"Children may want to take their laptops to school and work together on a collaborative basis. They can work anywhere they need to. They have much more freedom to do their learning any time any where."
Luftglass said the new management suite and the Executive Portal are the culmination of years of work with AirWave Wireless. However, she noted that the portal, which is the most recent innovation, was created and implemented in a matter of months.
The management portal has allowed the school system to bring its network management to new levels. "We have a data center which is located in our administrative building," Luftglass said, "We have staff there 24-7. Were able to monitor whats happening in all 220 of our sites."
Luftglass said that the school system has access points in all of its schools—its administrative buildings, trailers and everywhere else the school system has determined a need. She said that the number of access points will continue to grow as the need grows.
Luftglass employees agree that the new wireless management package is helpful.
"It makes life easier by giving better service to the users," said Neal Shelton, network engineering supervisor for the Fairfax County Public Schools. "It gives us real time data and it allows us to respond to the needs of the end user. I think service is helped by this product."
Shelton said that the executive portal makes for very flexible reporting. He said that if the technical staff thinks theres a problem on the network, the portal helps them check it out.
"We would open the portal, and we would take a look at utilization and number of users. We would determine if it was network related or wireless related. We can pinpoint whether its an individual problem, a site problem or a county problem," Shelton said.
The result is a wireless network spread across a large, mostly urban county near Washington, D.C., that might be impossible to manage any other way.
According to analyst Craig Mathias, principal with the Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass., this could be the beginning of an important new trend.
"Wireless management is such an important area that any enhancement is welcome," he said. "You want to get lots of eyes on the management situation, but you want to keep control in the hands of only a few people."
Mathias noted that the Fairfax County approach reflects the specific needs of the county school system.
"Every solution has its own management style," he said. "In some cases they may want to have lots of information available to non-operational staff."
Mathias added that more such implementations are sure to come. "Its just ripe for innovation. You can expect to be hearing of more things like this," he said.