Wireless Core Upgrade

Posted on: September 8, 2017

I bet you didn’t notice (and that’s good,) but in August, ITS Networking successfully upgraded the core equipment that keeps our wireless network running. That core equipment, called wireless “controllers,” makes 7,800 wireless access points across campus all sing the same song in the right key to ensure that the more than 60,000 devices brought to campus each day by students, faculty, and staff browse in harmony.

The new controllers were a $2 million dollar project that will enable ITS to provide new offerings in line with the cloud and the Internet of Things as well as offer better network security.  For example, by next summer we will offer a new way to connect wireless devices that are not supported on the current network (e.g., Amazon Echo).  We’ll support individual WPA2 pre-shared keys in addition to WPA2-Enterprise 802.1x.  WPA2 is a network security technology that replaces an older and less secure technology.  The new controllers are a lot faster and will support new wireless technologies, ensuring a robust orchestra for our IT innovations in years to come.

The previous generation of controllers dutifully served the university for seven years, supporting a 500% increase in wireless devices during their lifetime. Over the years, a lot of software and multiple management systems grew up around these controllers. This exponential growth and development around the old controllers demanded re-configuration and software re-writes to work with the new controllers. To envision what a wireless upgrade looks like at UT’s scale, visualize the pigeons in Trafalgar square—except you have to care for and feed every single pigeon and make sure they all land safely. (It gets messy.)  While it takes several folks to pull off a project such as this, a special call-out goes to David Breese and Clint Todish in Networking & Telecommunications for a job well done.  While on the topic of wireless, we are still on schedule to complete the wireless access point upgrade project towards the end of October—more on that later.