ETH Zurich Relies on High-Performance Wi-Fi from Huawei
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World-Leading Technical and Natural Science University
The “Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule” or ETH in Zurich is one of the world’s leading technical and natural science universities. It is an important place of study, research, and work for around 19,800 students, including 4,000 PhD students from over 120 countries, with 510 professors and 9,100 employees. The ETH was founded in 1855 and was a driving force for the industrialization of Switzerland. In total, the ETH has produced 21 Nobel Prize winners, including Albert Einstein. At ETH, students find an environment that promotes independent thinking, and researchers enjoy a climate that inspires excellence. In the heart of Europe and with a worldwide network, ETH Zurich is developing solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow. ETH is regularly placed in international rankings as one of the world’s best universities and the leading university in continental Europe. In 2017, ETH reached 10th place in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.
The ETH focuses on three core tasks: excellent education and training of students and professionals in the scientific and technical fields, groundbreaking fundamental research, as well as direct transfer of new findings into practice.
ETH Zurich is a university run by the Swiss Federation and the Swiss Federal Council formulates the guidelines, goals and measures of the education and science policy.
ETH Zurich offers researchers and students at sites inside and outside of Switzerland an excellent infrastructure and attractive working conditions. In Zurich, in addition to the main city center campus, the modern campus located on the Hönggerberg is of particular importance. In total, ETH operates a data network with approximately 86,000 Ethernet ports and 70,000 different devices simultaneously on the network, distributed across 180 buildings. These buildings are currently networked with over 15 network zones divided into 2,500 Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs).
Wi-Fi Becomes the Fastest Growing Part of the Network
The biggest challenge in the network area is the growing number of students, and the ensuing rapid increase in mobile clients.
Wi-Fi is the fastest growing part of the data network. In addition, ETH pursues the “learning at anytime and anywhere” strategy, for which a stable and high-performance Wi-Fi network is indispensable. Another challenge is the enormous client density; for example, in a lecture hall with up to 600 students. Almost all of these are wireless; only high-end devices such as workstations and servers are wired. At peak times, there are up to 20,000 Wi-Fi clients in the network at the same time. All of these factors are leading to an ever-increasing need for more bandwidth and full Wi-Fi coverage in all buildings.
In order to gradually renew the existing Wi-Fi network and to meet the requirements of the future, ETH launched a public tender in 2016 for an initial procurement of 2,500 access points, with the option of adding 200 additional access points per year over the next five years (3,500 units in all) to keep in step with its growth. It was specified that the new access points should support the 802.11ac Wave 2 standard. The second generation of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard not only brings more speed, but also higher efficiency when distributing data to several devices simultaneously (multi-user Multiple Input, Multiple Output or MIMO).
How to Deploy a Wi-Fi Network Scientifically
After an evaluation of a total of eight manufacturers, ETH decided to launch a four-month verification phase with Huawei’s products. The deciding factor in this initial decision-making phase was, above all, the very good price/performance ratio of Huawei’s components. In the verification phase, ETH Zurich was impressed by the solid quality and, in particular, pleasantly surprised by Huawei’s comprehensive technical support.
Huawei promptly and competently responded to customization requests and suggestions, and the appropriate modifications were implemented immediately. The good cooperation with the local Huawei support teams and the support provided by project teams at the headquarters were all the more reason to choose Huawei. Huawei’s many international references in the education sector further simplified the decision.
The starting signal for the roll-out of the first access points came in January 2017. In the first two months, 700 Huawei access points were already in operation. About a year after the start of the project, the Wi-Fi network has grown further and comprises a total of 3,000 access points. Of these, about half are from Huawei. The roll-out of the new access points was much faster and more efficient than expected. Thanks to a mounting plate specially developed by ETH, mechanical migration is extremely easy. Furthermore, the commissioning of the devices could be completely automated, so that the new device can be mounted directly after unpacking with Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP). The access points can be exchanged in a few minutes.
The AP6050DN high-speed access points support the 802.11ac Wave 2 standards, 4 x 4 MIMO and four spatial streams. They provide data rates of up to 2.53 Gbit/s and are used in medium and high density scenarios. They are ideal for public spaces thanks to their high performance, even in unusual network conditions, and the energy-efficient design, as well as the innovative wireless technology, with integrated overvoltage protection and sound hardware protection.
Huawei’s central AC6605 Access Controller was designed for larger organizations. Used primarily in campus networks, this model provides support for large numbers of mobile devices, extended hotspot coverage, and video applications. Two optical Small Form-Factor Pluggable (SFP) + 10 GE uplink ports deliver outstanding performance. A Fit AP + AC architecture and unified routing, control and related policies simplify the network management. Up to 1,024 access points and 10,000 clients are supported.
In the future, the new generations of access points can each be connected with two cables to two different switches. This will create redundancies in the bandwidth and power supply. Up to eight access points are installed in large lecture halls in order to satisfactorily serve the high density of end devices. The 5 GHz band is generally used to ensure data rates and reliability. Even in the basements of buildings, the solution will continue to work with 2.4 GHz. Since the university has to offer open access to all types of content, there are no restrictions for users in this respect. Neither content filters nor URL filters are used.
To ensure efficient network management, ETH relies on a manufacturer-neutral Configuration Management Database (CMDB). With this database, the individual access points will be managed and access will be provided to them. The individual access points are controlled via the Application Programming Interface (API). The Huawei eSight management system is used to monitor the service and the controller. eSight offers an open and flexible platform to support infrastructures and to easily develop custom administration applications.
Learning, Anytime and Anywhere
After completing the project, ETH Zurich’s campus network will be one of the largest 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless campus networks in the world in a university. The high-performance Wi-Fi network has been well received by ETH students and employees and makes an important contribution to the implementation of the “learning anytime and anywhere” strategy. The new infrastructure thus helps to keep the training quality and research opportunities at the ETH at a leading level.
The subject of Wi-Fi will continue to occupy and challenge the ETH: In the summer of 2017, the strategic decision was made to ensure that Wi-Fi will continue to be used in all office spaces in the future. With Wi-F- calling for in-house GSM coverage and Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) for ETH-internal telephony, ETH Zurich wants to implement telephony over Wi-Fi. However, the Wi-Fi system has to meet some additional requirements for high-quality telephony as compared to pure data communication. For example, switching of access points must be possible without disconnections or other impairment of the telephone call (seamless roaming). The Wi-Fi network itself has to meet special requirements in terms of Quality of Service (QoS). Thus, certain minimum bandwidths have to be made available for telephone calls, jitter, and delay values must be adhered to and defined maximum error rates must be undershot.
Another goal of the ETH is that more and more students will be able to complete their exams online, connected only via Wi-Fi. ETH is currently testing this with a pilot trial involving around 100 persons.
The test group will soon be expanded to 300 participants. It should be noted that the Wi-Fi network must be particularly stable, so that all candidates have technically identical conditions.
These new projects further escalate the requirements for the Wi-Fi infrastructure. With Huawei, ETH Zurich has a competent partner who is always ready to respond specifically to customer requirements and is supported by competent development teams. Mr. Wittmann estimates that the Wi-Fi infrastructure will be steadily expanded, and around 5,500 access points will be in use in the future.