Alcatel-Lucent customer shares WLAN access solution at Interop 2011

At Interop 2011, Alcatel-Lucent education customer Mark McWhinnie shares his experiences with a unique WLAN access solution utilized in Alberta, Canada.

When a fire temporarily shut down a large high school, a Canadian school district found that its WLAN access solution, with a bring-your-own-device policy for students and staff, really paid off.

At Interop 2011, Mark McWhinnie, director of technology integration at the Wolf Creek School Division in Alberta, Canada, is sharing how he spun his WLAN access strategy with an end-to-end joint solution of switches and wireless LAN from Alcatel-Lucent and network access control (NAC) from InfoExpress.

"Our goal was to provide authenticated access to our network from the very beginning as well as authenticated access through a host integrity check so that [student devices] could become very much like domain-member machines," McWhinnie said at Interop 2011 this week. "Through that process, students can access server shares, printers, anything that a regular client in a managed scenario would be able to access."

McWhinnie supplies network access to 7,000 students and 1,000 teachers and staff via his joint Alcatel-Lucent/InfoExpress deployment. He has Alcatel OmniAccess wireless LAN access points across 26 schools, with wireless LAN controllers in each building. The wireless LAN overlays an edge infrastructure of OmniSwitch campus switches, all embedded with InfoExpress's CyberGatekeeper NAC solution.

Wolf Creek uses deployed software agents and pop-up agents to do host integrity checks of student devices via the InfoExpress technology. The infrastructure also does role-based authentication of student and staff devices through the back-end, via a RADIUS server that is tied into the school district's Active Directory server. The CyberGatekeeper agent also enables enforcement of usage restrictions for student devices, blocking access to services like Skype and BitTorrent, McWhinnie said.

Bring-your-own-device WLAN access enables flexible classroom instruction

Wolf Creek's bring-your-own-device  wireless LAN access solution allows students to access the school's network resources and the Internet via smartphones, tablets and laptops. By using personal devices, students and teachers can access the resources more quickly and spontaneously. Previously, the school system had a limited supply of school-owned devices that teachers had to book ahead of time.

"By bringing in their own devices, [students] can actually access those resources any time during a class," McWhinnie said. "So instead of booking a lab for a half hour of time, a teacher can turn their attention to the lesson. It's purposeful learning as opposed to structuring your day to take advantage of a finite resource."

When a minor fire shut down Wolf Creek's largest high school for about a month, the district was forced to house students in empty classrooms across a handful of other schools. The district's bring-your-own-device solution allowed the students to continue learning and accessing network resources even though they were scattered, because the infrastructure could grant access regardless of location and device.

"The students could take advantage of the wireless infrastructure in any of our schools because it was authenticating them to the same CyberGatekeeper server no matter where they were," McWhinnie said. "Instead of setting up local printers and profiles in a school they didn't normally attend, they could use their own devices."

"We used our safe network access control approach, so I had students in grade 10 in an empty classroom in a grade 1-through-3 building that were accessing the network," McWhinnie said. "For many students, this saved their programs because they could continue learning from anywhere in the jurisdiction by bringing in their own device. It allowed anytime, anywhere learning, with 800 students spread over five different schools. Many of the teachers were already moving to online wikis and blogs and Web tools, so they were able to continue communicating with their students.  Since they were spread out, sometimes [the students] were attending class in a virtual sense and getting their assignments and handing things in that way."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor.

To learn more about Interop, view our 2011 Interop Las Vegas conference page.

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