When Gallaudet University wanted to deploy a campuswide wireless LAN in the fall of 2003, it turned—as did other enterprises at the time—to a relatively unknown technology company. Gallaudet, one of the nations most prestigious schools for the deaf, wanted to provide mobile data access to students, faculty and guests as they traveled among the Washington universitys 32 buildings.
But Gallaudet wanted more than just wireless access. It was looking for a WLAN that included centralized management as well as security. On top of that, the university wanted some assurances that its WLAN switch provider would survive the economy. At the time, analysts predicted that only some of the companies in the crowded WLAN switch market would last long-term.
After a review of its products and management, Gallaudet officials made an educated guess that Airespace Inc., then one of many WLAN switch startups focused on centralized management, would address all their issues.
At the time, the long-term viability of Airespace "was a concern, but they had such heavy-duty representation on their executive board that we felt very confident in them," said Meloyde Batten-Mickens, technology infrastructure manager at Gallaudet. "I just took the risk. We went through three months of grueling evaluation."
"You get a one-stop shop [with Airespace]. You get a secure gateway, and they have their own access points." To oversee the WLAN installation, Gallaudet turned to IT consultancy Ease Technologies Inc. Ease echoed Gallaudets initial hesitation to trust a then-unknown company.
"That was one of our biggest concerns," said Bruce Brooks, consulting manager at Ease, in Columbia, Md. "We got on the line to talk with [Airespaces] executives. They talked about their venture funding and so on. It was a gamble because, at the time, they were just selling themselves. But we were pretty sure theyd be a big player in the wireless arena. The product spoke for itself. In retrospect, I feel smart."
The Airespace architecture centralizes RF (radio-frequency) intelligence, security policies and QOS (quality-of-service) parameters within a switch, eliminating the need to configure and manage hundreds of distributed access points individually.
The first phase of deployment entailed installing 63 access points in nine buildings. Gallaudet continued the rest of its WLAN deployment without Eases help. The network now includes seven switches and some 150 access points in 32 buildings.
"I could definitively say that was the fastest install Ive ever seen," Brooks said. "You took everything out of the box, did some basic config and everything else was self-configuring."
All told, the project took about three months to complete: two months of preparing the WLAN with RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) servers for 802.1x authentication and POE (power-over-Ethernet) equipment and a third month for installation.