THE MAGAZINE

One Campus, Many Devices

By Holly Gilbert

Want to get on the wireless network at North Dakota State University (NDSU)? It used to be that you had to get in a long virtual line to get your devices authenticated, until NDSU came up with a solution that balances security with convenience.

Located in Fargo, the university is ranked by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education among the top 108 public and private universities in the country. With an enrollment of more than 14,000 students and more than 6,200 employees, the campus information technology division has to grapple with the challenge of thousands of devices connecting to the university network 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The average student or employee typically has two to three wireless devices connected to the network at a given time,” says Theresa Semmens, chief information technology security officer at NDSU. During the academic year, more than 20,000 unique devices per week connect to wireless. 

The types of devices on the campus network are vast. For its faculty and staff, which includes some student workers as well as full- and part-time employees, NDSU issues mobile devices. In addition, the campuswide bring your own device (BYOD) policy greatly diversifies the types of devices authenticating to the university network. “Since we are a university with residence halls, we have absolutely everything trying to show up on our network, from PlayStation 3s to Wiis to laptops,” adds NDSU senior software engineer Richard Frovarp. “So there’s been a bit of a challenge there, especially when it comes to consumer devices.”

To meet the high demand of devices on the network, the IT department recently completed a major project to expand wireless points of access across campus. This three-phase project included upgrading the electrical infrastructure in the university’s data center to handle the influx of data that would come with the additional wireless traffic, upgrading existing wireless access points in classrooms, and replacing wireless routers in the high-traffic public areas on campus. Now, NDSU has 851 wireless access points on its main campus, up from just 24 in 2005.

But even with more points of access and an upgraded wireless network, the IT department was still left with a major challenge: creating and maintaining secure certificates for every user. These certificates allow all the devices maintained by a specific user profile to securely authenticate onto the network.
 

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