IIIT-B unwires itself
Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore has
built a WLAN in its campus to give its students and faculty the capability for
better research and collaboration in an anytime-anywhere environment. A look
at the strategies being used.
Professor S. Sadagopan
Going unwired has been a dream of IIIT-B from the very beginning.
Our overarching purpose in setting up a wireless network is to provide
students with the mobility and ability to get information like classroom or
instructor material, e-mail and collaborative data anywhere on the campus,
says Professor S Sadagopan, Director, IIIT-B.
The campus is spread across eight acres of land and has 270 students.
What began as a dream for the institute is now reality. The institutes
campus WLAN includes the main building, all the classrooms, faculty areas, lobby,
theme-based labs, hardware labs, library, incubation centre, virtual classrooms
and the lush green landscapes. The institute has a floating population
of students and faculty members, who need seamless connectivity from any part
of the campus, says Sadagopan.
The first step was when the institute offered notebooks to its students in 1999.
It is now one of the most unwired institutes in the country. Sadagopan
explains, We are preparing our students for ubiquitous computing and it
is a step in the right direction.
This was the driving factor for going wireless. And it saw the institute go
live with 30 wireless access points in December 2003.
Designing the Wireless Architecture
A three-member team from the institute began work on designing the wireless
architecture in June 2003, with some help from BNA Networks and two technical
consultants from D-Link. The access points are designed in such a way that one
access point works as a hub providing services for three to four access points
in its proximity.
Out of the total space of eight acres, two acres are integrated with 30 D-Link
access points located in the institutes main building supporting 250 Wi-Fi
clients. These are either notebooks with D-Links DWL 120 wireless USB
adapter or Intel Centrino-based notebooks.
We are using 30 access points shared equally by the entire campus. Access
points have had to be shifted in some cases and some removed altogether due
to HP (Hewlett-Packard) projects in the main academic building (a special security
need), says Sadagopan. The locations of the access points are optimised
so that Wi-Fi clients do not lose the connection at any point.
Meanwhile, to provide connectivity between the fixed user, mobile user, server
and application software, IIIT-B has connected each access point to three central
Layer 3 switches from Cisco and D-Link that transform the campus into both wired
and wireless networks. Changes with additional security system and Internet
access is restricted by time slots.
Wireless as an Overlay Network
The campus network is hybrid in nature and has a four-km optical Gigabit backbone,
which extends to the desktop using a star topology. We have moved to the
software technology park (STPI) with 4 Mbps bandwidth (2Mbps + 2Mbps = 4Mbps).
One for Research Net and the other for Academic Net, says Sadagopan.
As its wired infrastructure is highly reliable, the institute decided to use
the 802.11b standard as an overlay network offering 11 Mbps of shared connectivity.
Inside the Campus
IIIT-B moved to a new campus in 2003, an Intel-approved WLL site. Intel is funding
the entire wireless initiative of the institute as part of its vision to spread
mobile computing with Centrino technology. Nortel is funding security systems
such as VPN Router, Firewall, IDS/IPS, Application Switch and NMS.
It took us two weeks of rigorous testing and fine-tuning the wireless
network in September 2003, and the results were satisfactory. There were grey
areas like frequency interference and signal strength, which we have solved.
However, frequency range is limited and as it is the first generation of Wi-Fi
products, we have upgraded the product so that we can allow access at the edges
of the campus, explains Sadagopan.
D-Links products were chosen due to its research engagement for testing
interoperability and mobile IP with D-Link. There are 20 D-Link DWL-900AP+ (wireless
access point with bridging function) and 10 DWL-1000AP+ devices in use.
D-Link is also supplying 150 DWL-120 wireless USB adapters for notebooks.
Security and Managing Wireless Access Points
For authentication, the institute uses a pre-configured default Service Set
Identifier (SSID) and password. E-serve provides the wired and wireless security.
Only notebooks configured with an SSID are allowed to proceed to the next level
of authentication. Next comes encryption of data transmission using Wired Equivalent
Privacy (WEP). The access points use DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol)
to automatically assign IP addresses to connected wireless nodes. To maintain
security, the system administrator will configure for any new user or visitor
to the campus.
Redundancy and Failover
Dr Debabrata Das, HP Chair Professor at IIIT-B said, Simply creating a
wireless infrastructure is meaningless. We have built redundancy into our wireless
network for the main campus by having enough Ethernet data and voice ports so
that business continuity is maintained in case of an emergency. We have designed
our wireless architecture in such a way that each classroom and faculty room
has two data ports and a voice port, and each lab has 100 data ports. This adds
up to 734 data ports, and over 100 voice ports at our campus.
Sadagopan says, Adopting new technology gives several early mover advantages.
We are expecting dramatic improvements in the students group project work.
The productivity is doubled and it had unbound them all from being glued to
classrooms and labs. The students feel they have extended work time.
The Next Step
The institute plans to upgrade to 802.11g in this financial year (2006-07).
It plans to use the same technology for its hostel (with 290 rooms).
The institute has wireless-enabled hostels completely with 24 wireless access
points except for a few rooms at the network edge. Also on the cards is the
conversion of its entire car park into a Wi-Fi zone, with hotspots where users
with notebooks can drive at their leisure to check e-mail and browse.
- The institute: IIIT-B aims to be a world-class
institution with an emphasis on education, research, entrepreneurship
and innovation. It wants to play a key role in crystallising the burgeoning
IT industry in Bangalore, a role similar to that of Stanford University
in Silicon Valley.
- The need: The institute decided to give
its students and faculty the capacity for better research, and collaboration
in an anytime-anywhere environment.
- The solution: IIIT-B deployed a campus
WLAN and uses it as an overlay network.
- Benefits: Students and faculty now have
seamless wireless connectivity to access their files, research papers
and journals from anywhere on the campus. Student productivity is expected
to double as they work from anywhere on the campus.
With updates from Vinita Gupta