Aruba transforms on-campus connectivity for Central University of Technology

Aruba transforms on-campus connectivity for Central University of Technology

Busi Matube, ICT Director and Chief Digital Officer, Central University of Technology

Trusted partnership built over recent years between Datacentrix and Central University of Technology along with Aruba’s access points, 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, and Aruba Central have helped to transform the on-campus connectivity experience.  

The Central University of Technology, a higher education institution based in South Africa’s Free State province, has successfully rolled out phase one of its three-year network and Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrade, an important step in the University’s digital transformation journey.

The project is being completed in partnership with Datacentrix, a hybrid ICT systems integrator and managed services provider.

Says Busi Matube, Central University of Technology’s ICT Director and Chief Digital Officer: “The driving force behind this infrastructure upgrade is our digital transformation strategy, with the aim of improving our connectivity efficiencies and speed, and our use of 4IR technologies.

“This will allow us to better leverage the Internet of Things, IoT for other projects we have in place, such as smart buildings, smart bins, a virtual reality environment for our engineering students, and more, located in different areas.”

Central University of Technology is the foremost higher education institution in the heartland of South Africa. The education university has two campuses: one in Bloemfontein, the judicial capital of South Africa, and one in Welkom, in the heart of the Free State goldfields. The two campuses offer education opportunities in a number of technological fields, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics; management sciences; humanities; and education.

The University opened its doors in 1981, with 285 students enrolled in mainly secretarial, art and design programmes. Today, it boasts more than 21,000 students. With the restructuring of the higher education landscape in 2004, Central University of Technology embraced its new status as a university of technology.

Today it includes Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences; Faculty of Humanities; Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology; and Faculty of Management Sciences. The university offers certificates and diplomas at undergraduate level, as well as advanced diplomas, postgraduate diplomas at honours level, and master’s and doctoral degrees in order to increase the production of world-class postgraduate programmes and high-quality outputs for research.

Pain points

Prior to this implementation, Central University of Technology’s infrastructure was failing to meet the needs of both students and staff, with connectivity issues becoming a sore point for the University. According to Lucky Matjelo, Deputy Director, ICT Infrastructure Services at Central University of Technology, the University’s Wi-Fi, which was set up in 2009 as its secondary mode of connectivity after the LAN, had actually become the primary connection point for these users.

“Over this time, technology has changed and advanced, and the existing solution, which was not scaled for high volume connectivity, was under increasing pressure,” he comments. “With around 22,000 staff and students on campus, each with a minimum of two devices and expectations of being able to connect wirelessly around the campus, connectivity had become an issue for us. The end-of-life infrastructure needed to be replaced.”

Challenges for Central University of Technology included low through-put, resulting in poor connectivity; poor coverage, both inside and outside; and a lack of visibility on the network. This was particularly challenging in the event of users reporting connectivity delays, as the Central University of Technology team was unable to ascertain what was happening on the network at the time.

The pandemic also played a role in these increasing needs, as the reliance on virtual meetings increased, further overloading the Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Upgrading and implementation

Central University of Technology decided that a network and Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrade was critical for the University to meet its digital transformation objective of building a smart campus, where both students and staff are always connected through improved network infrastructure and reliable, responsive connectivity.

The new wireless network infrastructure would ensure the connectedness of students and staff to digital resources both internal and external to the network, as well as providing the medium through which Central University of Technology would be able to relay data from smart buildings’ backend systems for analysis and reporting, and to provide a connected access control system for a more secure campus.

Central University of Technology went out on tender through its partner PURCO in order to appoint a service provider that could implement a Wi-Fi solution that would be able to seamlessly integrate with the University’s existing network infrastructure and improve its Wi-Fi services.

Says Matjelo: “An additional requirement was that the supplier should have done a similar project in the higher education sector.”

Datacentrix’s footprint in education, which extends to the support of several local universities, and vendor certification levels, as Aruba Platinum Partner with ClearPass Policy Management competencies and the 2022 winner of the Aruba Partner Deal of the year award, were important in its appointment.

Datacentrix was awarded the procurement, configuration and installation of Wi-Fi equipment for a period of three years at both the Welkom and Bloemfontein campuses of the University, as well as Level One Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment certification and competitive pricing, explains Henry Denner, Datacentrix Account Manager: Commercial.

The solution

The wireless and network upgrade project, in partnership with Aruba as the vendor, was undertaken to leverage technologies and elevate connectivity, performance, and security within the University’s existing Wi-Fi network infrastructure.

During this comprehensive upgrade initiative, Aruba’s state-of-the-art wireless access points, APs were strategically deployed to establish a seamless and high-density wireless network. These APs are designed to adhere to the latest Wi-Fi standards, including 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, facilitating faster data rates, increased capacity, and reliability, culminating in exceptional user experience for stakeholders, including students, staff, alumni, and IoT devices.

To facilitate seamless network administration, Aruba’s central management platform, specifically Aruba Central, was employed. The cloud-based solution empowers network administrators to efficiently configure, manage, and troubleshoot the infrastructure from a unified interface, streamlining the network administration process.

Security was prioritised throughout the upgrade, as it incorporated Aruba’s advanced features such as WPA3 encryption and integrated firewall capabilities. These robust security measures effectively safeguarded the network against potential threats and unauthorised access, ensuring the protection of sensitive data and adherence to industry standards.

Moreover, the network upgrade encompassed an array of Aruba’s solutions, including switches, routers, and controllers, meticulously designed to accommodate the amplified traffic and data requirements of modern networks. Leveraging Aruba’s intelligent infrastructure, network administrators can optimise traffic flow, prioritise mission-critical applications, and proactively detect and resolve network issues.

Benefits and RoI

The outcome of the wireless and network upgrade project was a robust, scalable, and secure network infrastructure, facilitating swift and dependable connectivity for all users while simplifying network management for the IT personnel.

The project was executed in a phased manner, with phase one covering parts of the Bloemfontein campus, followed by phase two encompassing the remaining areas of the Bloemfontein campus, and culminating with phase three, dedicated to the Welkom campus.

Central University of Technology has realised notable benefits from the ongoing implementation of the roll-out project. Significant improvements have been observed in Wi-Fi connectivity, particularly in high-traffic areas like the library and Student Academic Support Centre, where students previously faced substantial challenges due to weak signal strength. Since the inception of the project, all signal dropouts in these areas have ceased entirely.

Furthermore, the network’s visibility has substantially increased, offering more opportunities for engagement with users to better comprehend and resolve challenges. Presently, when a student or staff member logs a Wi-Fi related query, the system allows for meticulous tracking based on the individual’s network activities at the time, enabling more precise identification of issues and efficient problem-solving.

These advancements have contributed to an enhanced user experience and streamlined network management at Central University of Technology.

Trusted partnership built over recent years between Datacentrix and Central University of Technology has been integral to the success of this project. Outcomes like this require constructive input from the customer, technology partners, in this case Aruba, as well as experts at Datacentrix.

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