Wireless Network Passes University Test

U. Of Arkansas-Pine Bluff gives a wireless LAN concept from CA and Intel high grades.

Managing a wireless network that spans more than 900 acres is no mean feat. So when Maurice Ficklin had the chance to participate in a device management study with two major technology companies, he jumped at the opportunity.

Ficklin is director of technical services and CIO at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, which includes a 141-acre main campus and an 800-acre farm campus.

The university has been testing wireless technology for several years, and most of its students and faculty use wireless technology in some regard. This made the institution an ideal testbed for new wireless management software from Computer Associates International Inc., of Islandia, N.Y., and a prototype wireless PDA/phone from Intel Corp.

"We did the proof of concept over the last two or three months with CA and Intel," Ficklin said in an interview. "This is some big-time new stuff."

The school tested CAs new Unicenter Wireless Site Management software, which went into wide beta in May. The software handles WLAN (wireless LAN) management tasks such as managing encryption keys, detecting and disabling rogue access points, and provisioning user access. General availability of the software has yet to be determined.

The software managed Intels prototype handset, which is based on the Santa Clara, Calif., companys Universal Communicator research platform. It supports voice and data over cellular or 802.11-based networks. Intel has yet to announce commercial plans for the device.

With the additional help of an access point, a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server and an HTTP server, the two companies showed university officials how they could provision an operating system image to the device, reprovision a device with an updated operating system and render unauthorized devices inoperable.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about a RADIUS server attack that can thwart wireless networks.

Ficklin said he is excited about the test for several reasons. Should the concept turn into reality, it would save time for him and for the students and faculty, he said. As things stand now, students who want access to the wireless network come to the IT office, and the IT department assigns each device a static IP address and MAC (media access control) number. Pine Bluff has been doing things that way since 2000. It works, but not elegantly, Ficklin said.

Now, he said, "the student wont have to come to us. [The system] has the added feature of locking down security in terms of roaming. You can see the particular wireless endpoints move over your network, and you have a graphical depiction of where they are on the network."

Ficklin said he has tested other WLAN management software, such as Cisco Systems Inc.s WLSE (Wireless LAN Solution Engine). But he said hes planning to standardize on CAs platform because of its GUI and because the university was using Unicenter management software for nonwireless functions anyway.

Next Page: Capitalizing on roaming between cell networks and WLANs.