Doane University Chooses Aruba ESP to Enable Hybrid Learning
Nebraska’s Oldest Private College Rearchitects Network in Just Six Weeks to Address Student and Faculty Needs during COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, announced that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Doane University in Crete, Nebraska, deployed an Aruba ESP (Edge Services Platform) network to bring remote and hybrid education to its 2,500 students and equip its 500 faculty and staff with the tools they need to deliver it. Using Aruba wireless, switching, security, and management solutions, Doane quickly deployed a reliable and secure network to address student and faculty needs and to begin planning for a post-pandemic learning environment.
Founded in 1872, Doane is Nebraska’s oldest private college and is designated as a “Top National Liberal Arts College” by U.S. News and World Report. The University’s main campus is comprised of 21 buildings including six residence halls that house 800 students. Doane also operates two satellite campuses located in Lincoln and Omaha.
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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it escalated Doane’s need for a reliable and secure network. Students were having problems connecting to their courses from home or their dorms and were being dropped from their Zoom sessions. The IT team was faced with either upgrading their existing Cisco network or replacing it with a more innovative solution that could support the University’s long-term vision as well as its immediate needs.
“My goal has always been to make sure that the only thing that is challenging for our students is their coursework,” said Doane University CIO, Derek Bierman. “It’s important for us to think strategically about all of the technology we’re using to provide a fantastic learning experience for our students and build a network for where the University wants to be, not where we are now.”
While Doane’s IT team considered using Cisco for a refresh, the high cost, coupled with the requirement for a future-ready solution that supports their vision, drove them to look for alternatives. In addition, as the pandemic lingered, the uncertainty surrounding the percentage of time students would spend in classrooms versus remote learning underscored the need for a foundation that could better address a hybrid learning model.
Working with partner DataVizion, Doane moved to an Aruba ESP network including Aruba Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs), CX Series switches, with Aruba Central providing unified cloud-based management. The first phase of the deployment across Doane’s residence halls was completed in less than six weeks. Phase two, which includes connecting the rest of the buildings on campus and deploying ClearPass to unify wired and wireless NAC, is underway.
Unified Management Saves Time, Simplifies Tasks for IT
One of the primary reasons Doane chose Aruba ESP was its unified wired and wireless management. Doane’s Director of IT, Ryan Dorshorst noted, “We wouldn’t want to put all of our APs in the cloud and manage them with one system, then have to troubleshoot our switches on another platform. Being able to manage everything from a single pane of glass using Aruba Central saves us valuable time and resources.”
Dorshorst also found that Central allows the team to monitor and manage the network from anywhere without a VPN connection. For example, on the nights when students are moving into their residence halls, he can oversee the network remotely from his phone. Central also enables him to run reports on specific traffic – such as that emanating only from student devices – and provides templates for easy configuration changes, resulting in time and cost savings for the IT team.
Dorshorst is also excited about the potential to use contextual data from Central to identify at-risk students so that Doane can develop programming to assist them and further enhance their educational experience. With some of the proximity tracing capabilities inherent in Central, for example, a professor could identify an absent student and check in to make sure the student is well, can obtain notes and assignments from the missed class, and can stay on track.
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Student Devices and IoT Can Connect Securely and Reliably
Another key benefit of Doane’s Aruba ESP network is the ability to reliably and securely connect the wide variety of devices students are bringing to campus including Sonos speakers, Amazon Alexa devices, gaming devices and printers, and the usual laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Said Dorshorst, “The Aruba network is delivering the reliability we lacked previously in the residence halls. I’m not getting complaints that students are having trouble getting their mobile devices connected or dropping from Zoom calls anymore.”
As Doane enters its second semester, it will be conducting COVID-19 testing for students, allowing those with negative results to return to classrooms, but continuing to enable others to learn remotely. Dorshorst said the network is critical to building this hybrid environment, giving students a seamless experience whether they are back in the classroom or in their dorm.
In addition, Dorshorst says that Doane will add IoT devices as the new network is fully implemented. The University’s facilities department already has the entire HVAC system connected via the wired network, but Dorshorst noted that it will be easier to add IoT devices wirelessly moving forward, particularly since the Aruba APs have built-in Bluetooth and Zigbee to simplify IoT deployment and management.
“We already have an engineering professor looking at adding sensors for air quality or water detection to reduce Doane’s insurance costs, as one example,” he said. “But we envision many different kinds of wireless IoT devices will now be able to connect easily and securely.”
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