For just $40,000 CLU was able to install an 802.11b network running Cisco AP1200 access point servers and, more importantly, protect those nodes with a security layer provided by the Reefedge Connect System. Going wired would have run upwards of $80,000, said Zareh Marselian, CLU's director of Technical Services.
"So, for the cost of adding about 400 ports (in the science buildings) to the network we were able to deploy a wireless network and get the laptop cart and get additional faculty laptops as well," he said. "We're using Reefedge as an authentication tool and also basically separating the wireless network from the wired net so that we can limit access to critical data from the wireless network."
Not quite a virtual private network (VPN) level of security, Reefedge's products were a cost-efficient alternative for a number of reasons, he said. The user interface is very intuitive (just a user name and password) and Reefedge's products are vendor agonistic, something a university with a diverse student population and visiting faculty has to take into account. Cisco's edge-of-network, gatekeeper products, although more robust in security terms, were also considered but are proprietary so Reefedge got the contract.
"You're limited to using Cisco products, Cisco NICs (network interface controller cards), and being in a university environment, we can't enforce using a single vendor," Marselian said. "So we kind of looked at leaving the system as open as possible without compromising security."
So far, about 130 users have accessed the network since September 2002 and only 15 needed help getting connected, meaning Reefedge gets high marks for its user interface and low maintenance. "It does what we want it to do. It's not the highest level of security but the functionality is there. The convenience is there."
As far as performance goes, the Reefedge products do add a bottleneck to the WLAN since all data going in and out must go through the Connect Server appliances but the bandwidth loss is not significant and no worse than other solutions, Marselian said. Speed is about the same as a good dial-up connection.
"It is a little bit slower going though the Reefedge product because the Reefedge, basically, funnels all the traffic through it so there's a little bit of latency there, but it's not considerable," he said.
Although pleased with the WLAN so far, Marselian will continue pursuing a combination approach to expanding CLU's network. Wireless is good and it works, but a wired network is still more reliable and is much more predictable, as well as providing better performance, he said.
"I think because of performance and reliability, the wired network, at least for the foreseeable future, it's going to be dominant and the wireless is going to be an overlay and enhancement to the network."
That said, however, Marselian is considering just a wireless network for the next new dormitory that gets built. It is cheaper after all and ROI is what IT is all about these days.