College expects wireless LAN to be big man on campus

California Lutheran University has a fairly small wireless local area network in place for its students, although network administrators expect the number of users to balloon in the next few years.

When California Lutheran University decided to deploy a wireless network, it knew that managing and securing that network would not be a simple task.

Zareh Marselian, the university's director of technical services, said that Cisco Systems Inc., which provided the access points, did not have the kind of security and management tools that he needed to administer the wireless local area network in the way he wanted. Instead, he turned to a third-party vendor, Fort Lee, N.J.-based ReefEdge Inc.

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The university, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has about 2,800 students. While only 300 of them are using laptops today, Marselian said that number will grow significantly in the next few years. Marselian is deploying his network in stages. Right now, it covers about 10 of the campus' 40 buildings. These are mostly classroom buildings, but the number includes the student union and a coffee shop as well. Eventually, the network will cover most of the campus' 30 acres and all of the buildings, including the dorms.

There are only about 100 users on the system now, but as the network expands and students use more laptops and PDAs, he expects the wireless network to become an important part of the school's networking infrastructure.

Marselian considered using Cisco's security and management tools, but at the time they were more expensive than those from ReefEdge, and they do not integrate well with products from other vendors, he said. At a university, it is not possible to determine what kinds of network cards students will use, so it is crucial that the system be vendor-neutral. Marselian also wanted to use his existing Radius server for authentication. Both of these things would have posed a challenge with Cisco's security tool.

With ReefEdge's server and edge controllers, Marselian can use his existing authentication server. The Internet protocol security (IPsec) encryption works with any device, and he can configure his access points from a central point. So far, he said, the deployment has been relatively headache-free.

ReefEdge's product is geared toward retail outlets, manufacturers, health care providers and colleges, said Evan Sohn, vice president of marketing for ReefEdge.

Aaron Vance, an analyst with the Phoenix research firm Synergy Research Group, said that ReefEdge's system makes sense with most large wireless implementations. Small businesses and those that have small networks with few users might not get much return on investment because they have little need for the management functions.

Vance said he sees indications that other vendors in the wireless LAN market are starting to take notice of ReefEdge's approach. Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y., recently launched a product that allows for centralized management of wireless access points.

Craig Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, a Framingham, Mass., research firm, said that with ReefEdge's IPsec, companies need not worry about holes in wireless encryption protocol (WEP).

While the cost of this system varies depending on the size of the deployment and the number of users, Sohn said that the typical sale is between $15,000 and $25,000.

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