A multimillion dollar network infrastructure upgrade is currently underway at Montclair State University, replacing the 12-year-old wired equipment and the associated wireless networks with the latest equipment from Cisco Inc. to increase the performance, capacity and functionality of overall campus network.
According to Jeff Giaccobbe, Assistant Vice President of Enterprise Technology at the university, the entire process is almost halfway over, with installation of the new network completed in Chapin, Russ, Freeman and Dickson Halls, as well as Panzer Athletic Center, Harry Sprague Library and many other academic buildings on the south end of campus. The two buildings which opened this semester, the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences and the Feliciano School of Business, incorporated the upgraded network during their construction. Network installation in the Clove Road residences is almost completed, with work at Hawk Crossings, Sinatra Hall and the Village expected to be finished by the holidays. The network in University Hall will be upgraded between January and March of next year and the remaining residence halls will be completed by July.
Plans for this project have been underway for the past two years and with the receiving of a New Jersey HETI (Higher Education Technology Infrastructure) Bond in 2014, the Information Technology Division at Montclair State was able to move forward. With the HETI Bond funding half of the project cost and the university covering the other half, Giaccobbe said that “we are able to support this very important and necessary infrastructure upgrade without any additional direct costs to our students.”
The network infrastructure on campus consists of two basic components: the wired portion which includes all the physical cables, switches, routers and jacks, and the wireless portion which provides WiFi connection through wireless access points (APs) and wireless controllers, both of which rely on the wired infrastructure in order to function.
According to Giaccobbe, “Our current wireless network…has frankly struggled to keep up with the increased demand for wireless services on campus and the huge increase in WiFi capable devices that students, faculty and staff use every day.”
MSUWifi and MSUWPA2, the two wireless networks available on campus, which are currently running on APs and controllers from Meru Inc., will be replaced by Cisco APs. The new Cisco switches eliminate the need for dedicated controllers with their ability to fulfill the function of the controllers in each building, allowing for better hardware redundancy and improved wireless performance.
With help from a network design and installation firm called Aspire Technology Partners, the new Cisco wireless network is being installed alongside the preexisting Meru wireless network, with APs being put in along the way, therefore avoiding any negative impact on wireless network during the process.
“In addition to the technical design work and purchasing all of the equipment, there are a lot of logistical details that need to be worked out to make sure all the pieces fit together with as little disruption to network services as possible. We have been working in groups of physically adjacent buildings we call sites to make the process more efficient,” said Giaccobbe.
Information Technology sent an email to the campus community last Friday announcing the change and asking students to complete a survey evaluating the speed, signal strength, stability and overall performance of the current network. According to Giaccobbe, another survey will be sent out upon completion of the installation next September to “gauge the level of improvement that we hope the network will bring.”