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Supporting wireless infrastructure as devices proliferate

In this Q&A, one IT pro shares the challenges of supporting wireless infrastructure in student housing, where residents have more devices than ever.

In this edition of The Subnet, we catch up with Heriberto Altieri, an IT manager at the International House, a private nonprofit dormitory whose residents are mostly international students attending universities in New York City.

What are you working on lately in terms of networking projects?

Heriberto Altieri: We're looking to improve the Wi-Fi. We did the initial investment and implemented Wi-Fi about five years ago. Now we're looking at upgrading and doing some improvements to the wireless infrastructure.

What are you trying to accomplish?

Altieri: It's a challenge when you're looking to meet the demands of the residents, especially students who come from all over the world. The technology is changing so fast, and it's a challenge to meet the demands of bandwidth allocation and provisioning, as well as challenges with the wireless infrastructure and density.

I suspect a lot of [the upgrade] is going to be based on infrastructure as well as endpoints -- like putting in new access points with some new 11ac technology. Right now we have 11n, so we're looking to support some of the new protocols. We're currently using Ruckus hardware and Slice [a managed services provider in New York]. We'll probably continue to use them in the upgrade.

Are you seeing a lot of 802.11ac-capable mobile devices on the network? I imagine students, in general, always have the newest gadgets.

Altieri: Here's the interesting thing: Because people come from all over the world, we see different numbers and types of devices. You'll have some who have the latest and the greatest, and you'll have some who have some of the older equipment and devices. So we're trying to stay aware of that, and we're just basically reaching out to the resident community and getting their feedback to figure out what kinds of services they need and how much they need.

International House is in an almost 100-year-old concrete building. How does that affect your wireless infrastructure?

Altieri: Back then, when they built the buildings around here, the types of materials they used were very different from what they use today. One of the biggest challenges [when we first deployed Wi-Fi] was interference. There were a few other challenges like density.

Heriberto AltieriHeriberto Altieri

Before Slice came in, we had an unmanaged network. We went to Slice with the idea of putting in a managed network so we could better manage capacity and also provide better services. They helped us manage the allocation of bandwidth, reduce interference and give users a better experience in terms of how the technology was delivering services, such as provisioning dynamic VLANs and making the network more secure. There were a lot of benefits to [working with them] and we're very happy with the network, but we're still dealing with some challenges.

Like what?

Altieri: Density and speed -- especially density -- because we're seeing people use more devices. There are also bigger and bigger applications that are being written for those mobile devices. So, I think keeping up with the number of devices and being able to support them, while still providing good performance and a good experience for the end users, is the most challenging issue we face.

Over the years, what would you say is the best career advice you've received?

Altieri: Listen to your customers. A friend of a mine was a disc jockey, and we were talking one day and he said, "A good disc jockey doesn't play the music he likes. He plays the music that the people like." And I just always took that as a metaphor [for the business world] in that it's what the customer really wants. If you want to deliver good service, it's important that you understand the customer's needs -- in this case, the end users' needs. Don't make assumptions about what you think end users need from a service perspective. Understand their needs [by soliciting feedback] from them and try to deliver that.

How did you wind up getting into IT?

Altieri: My background is in electronic engineering, and I went to school to repair televisions and radios. I was offered an opportunity to swap out a hard drive on one occasion and liked it. That was how I got started: I swapped out my first hard drive at Cornell Medical School and that was my first IT job, which was basically a freelance field technician.

My thing is problem solving -- fixing things and analyzing -- which is what I enjoy most. So when I had an opportunity to do that, it was great. I swapped out my first hard drive and thought, "This is easy to do, and it's interesting." And then I realized later that in some cases it's not so easy, but it's always challenging and rewarding from a personal perspective.

Final question: What are your top three favorite films?

Altieri: I'd say right off the top of my head, it would be "Blade Runner," "Alien" and "Prometheus," which are all sci-fi and that's my favorite genre. The one thing that all three films have in common is the director, Ridley Scott. When it comes to sci-fi, I don't know if there's a better director -- except for maybe Stanley Kubrick.

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This was last published in September 2015

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