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The upgraded Wi-Fi network is awesome, with incredible signal all over our dormitories. The connection is also stable, never disconnecting, even during peak hours. Its high bandwidth also means that live-streamed classes are smoother than ever, and downloading files from the network is crazy fast.
The digital era has arrived. With it, universities are undergoing massive change — not just digitalizing their curriculum, but shifting the entire education process online. Of course, any profound change to such a deep-rooted process will inevitably lead to a whole range of issues.
So how can universities effectively ride the wave of digitalization to improve the quality and efficiency of teaching, learning, and research, all while gaining a competitive advantage in the education industry?
And more specifically, how can they effectively use cutting-edge technologies — such as Wi-Fi 6, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and big data — to build a future-oriented data network, to better support their work?
Founded in 1902 in Nanjing, China, Southeast University has taken a proactive approach to such challenges. And with a clear focus on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) disciplines — such as electronic science and technology, information and communication engineering, and computer science and technology — Southeast University already boasts a competitive edge.
Determined to become a digital and intelligent university, Southeast University has already taken a number of measures to implement data sharing and online teaching, in turn digitalizing their office spaces. In addition, the University has integrated informatization into its processes, from talent cultivation and scientific research, to office management and general decision-making.
However, as the University's level of digitalization deepened, its legacy network was quickly becoming ineffective, unable to satisfy the increasingly higher network requirements of the school's teaching, research, and administration departments, as well as other services.
However, as early as 2010, the University had already laid out a clear blueprint, to build an intelligent education campus network as well as a customized, network-based, digital, intelligent, and fine-tuned education information management system. It knew that only through strengthening its Information Technology (IT) infrastructure, could it remain a leading education institute in China. The goals, then, had been clear for some time.
At the foundation, it was clear that a future-oriented teaching and research network was vital to support the development of "First Class" disciplines, also delivering lightning-fast connections to every corner of the main campus and its branches.
In addition, a ubiquitous learning environment was necessary, to help build knowledge graphs, create an atmosphere that encourages excellence, and take advantage of multi-dimensional learning platforms, such as smart classrooms.
And Operations and Maintenance (O&M) needed automation, to improve the efficiency of both wired and wireless networks, as well as broadband and narrowband networks. This would resolve the issues caused by multiple networks distributed across campuses: namely, passive service isolation and unsystematic, dispersed data.
With these clear cut goals in place — not to mention a massive undertaking ahead — Southeast University needed to find the right partner to support it on its digital transformation journey.
On September 19, 2020, Wi-Fi 6 dormitory campus networks — built on all-optical Ethernet networks — officially went live on Southeast's Sipailou and Dingjiaqiao campuses. After comparing the network solutions of multiple vendors, Southeast University finally chose Huawei's AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 solution for its unrivalled performance.
Taking the unique architectural features of the campuses into consideration, Huawei deployed a Wi-Fi 6 wall plate Access Point (AP) — AirEngine 5760-22W — in each dormitory. These APs are equipped with industry-leading Smart Antennas that enable signals to move with users, ensuring full Wi-Fi coverage with zero blind spots — such technology ensured full signal strength in the dormitories.
In addition, the built-in Bluetooth function of the APs supports Wi-Fi and Internet of Things (IoT) convergence, which can be put to good use in the future as the development of IoT accelerates. This particular project involved AP installation and commissioning as well as the deployment of a massive wired network in more than 9700 dormitories across 122 dormitory buildings. Yet, despite the huge size of the project, it was finished in just 39 days.
Quite simply, AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 revolutionizes the network experience for users. AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 transmits radio signals to every corner of every dormitory, allowing students to access the network anytime, anywhere, with always-on connectivity even when moving around.
AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 also provides extremely high bandwidth, indeed much higher than initially expected. A series of rigorous tests conducted onsite at Southeast University revealed that the bandwidth of Wi-Fi 5 reached 200 Mbit/s per terminal; AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 reached a staggering 400 Mbit/s, making it ideal for bandwidth-hungry services, such as large file downloads, live-streamed courses, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), and videoconferencing.
After experiencing the new network over a considerable period, one student noted: "The upgraded Wi-Fi network is awesome, with incredible signal all over our dormitories. The connection is also stable, never disconnecting, even during peak hours. Its high bandwidth also means that live-streamed classes are smoother than ever, and downloading files from the network is crazy fast."
Over the past few years, the digital services of Southeast University have become increasingly diverse. However, these services were not always deployed in unison, resulting in repeat construction, which in turn increased costs and O&M complexity. It was therefore vital to plan the campus IT network and platform with the service access and transport requirements of both students and teachers in mind, as well as reserve space for new service deployment in the future.
To date, Southeast University has built a full range of application platforms, such as a visualized and comprehensive administration center, a smart innovation application center, and a one-stop service center. This enables the University to centrally provide digital services covering security management, public polls, and public services, as well as manage all assets, teaching affairs, student affairs, research, and attendance — again, all centrally.
In response to 2020's pandemic, the University quite naturally prioritized the development of a smart education campus, in order to provide more stable, reliable network support. This helped ensure that teaching and learning, as well as administration duties, remained uninterrupted, with the efficiency of network operations also boosted.
To keep up with the high-concurrency, bandwidth-hungry network access requirements of more than 40,000 students and teachers, Southeast University decided to deploy all-10 GE network infrastructure as its foundation, to give full play to the advantages of AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 from the start. Such a network will be able to support higher-bandwidth services in the future, doing away with the need for incremental network upgrades as new services are deployed, also saving on the need for additional network investment.
To make the campus network as flat as possible, dormitory networks in this project were carried over a simplified network architecture with just two layers: access and core.
At the access layer, the state-of-the-art CloudEngine S5732-H48XUM2CC — a 10 GE hybrid optical-electrical switch — was deployed, supplying Power over Ethernet (PoE)++ over a distance of 300 m, plus 10 Gbit/s access bandwidth for AirEngine 5760-22W APs, all through hybrid cables.
Such optical-electrical synergy not only overcomes the inability of a Passive Optical LAN (POL) solution to supply power to APs, but also the inability of an Ethernet cable access solution to upgrade bandwidth. Therefore, in this instance, it proved ideal for constructing a Wi-Fi 6 transport network.
At the core layer, Huawei's flagship campus core switch — CloudEngine S12700E — was deployed as the core device of the dormitory network in each campus. The switch can manage up to 10,000 Wi-Fi 6 APs, implementing wired and wireless convergence. This solution slashed network deployment costs for the University, as there was no need to purchase a standalone Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) Access Controller (AC).
It should also be noted that the access and core switches support Virtual Extensible Local Area Network (VXLAN) technology for network virtualization. With this technology, multiple types of isolated data services are deployed on the current transport network on demand, implementing "one network for multiple purposes and converged deployment" and reducing network construction and management costs.
Considering the student service model, this project achieved seamless interconnection between the dormitory network and the teaching and research networks in each campus. Students were then able to directly access the teaching and research network in their dormitories without having to connect via an external network, significantly relieving the egress bandwidth pressure of the teaching and research network.
When it comes to achieving high-quality networks, 30% lies in the construction and 70% in O&M. Clearly, effective O&M of education campus networks is of the utmost importance. With nearly 10,000 Wi-Fi 6 wall plate APs and 1000 switches added to the dormitory networks, Southeast University had to find a way to effectively manage all these devices while guaranteeing an optimal Wi-Fi 6 service experience.
To improve campus network O&M efficiency, Huawei launched a one-stop campus network management platform — iMaster NCE-Campus — back in 2019. This platform integrates network management, control, and analysis functions for Southeast University's dormitory network, realizing the centralized management of devices, users, and services.
With nearly 10,000 devices installed across a total of 122 dormitory buildings over three campuses, the construction workload was — put simply — huge. Making matters worse, with a new semester fast approaching and the pandemic still rife, the project needed to be completed in just 39 days. iMaster NCE-Campus made this seemingly impossible task, possible.
Traditionally, devices needed to be configured and commissioned one by one. However, iMaster NCE-Campus offers an automated underlay network deployment function, allowing switches and APs to automatically initiate registration requests, synchronizing service configurations from iMaster NCE-Campus once powered on. This implements true plug-and-play for devices and networks, slashing device deployment costs and shortening device provisioning times.
iMaster NCE-Campus also offers Software Defined Networking (SDN)-based network control capabilities and VXLAN-based network virtualization. The University's original multiple networks had been constructed one-by-one, inevitably resulting in complex network management and poor scalability. iMaster NCE-Campus was used to automatically provision overlay networks, rapidly deploy VXLAN-based virtual networks between core and access switches, and divide virtual networks by dormitory area, in order to isolate services.
In fact, it took just a few minutes to deploy a new virtual network over the dormitory network, truly building a multi-purpose network and maximizing the benefits of campus network virtualization. iMaster NCE-Campus can also rapidly provision and flexibly adjust any new services, freeing the University's IT personnel from heavy, complicated network management in the future.
In addition, Huawei's AI-powered platform — iMaster NCE-CampusInsight — has completely transformed the performance of the University's network analysis. This platform proactively collects and analyzes Wi-Fi network data and user data in real-time, evaluating network health from seven dimensions then presenting IT personnel with insights into network status and quality.
The platform also allows teachers and students to enjoy seamless access to the network whenever they are connected. If a user access failure does occur however, the platform provides access protocol tracing to rapidly locate the fault as well as the root cause, providing rectification suggestions to IT personnel.
The core capability of iMaster NCE-CampusInsight is its ability to constantly learn network models and predict service trends using big data and AI technologies. Based on prediction results, it then performs intelligent radio calibration for Wi-Fi networks: for Southeast University, this means better and better Wi-Fi services for teachers and students alike, transforming an administration-oriented education campus network into a service-oriented one.
Southeast University and Huawei have a long-term, strategic partnership in terms of digital campus and smart education construction, aiming to jointly promote teaching informatization innovation and talent cultivation. Through this specific instance of cooperation, Huawei planned and built a future-oriented, multi-purpose campus network for the University, achieving in-depth convergence of networks, services, and administration.
This in-depth convergence continues to bring tangible benefits to the school.
Teachers and students in the University both recognize the superb service experience of their AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 campus network. This, in turn, strengthens Southeast University's determination to further upgrade and optimize its IT infrastructure.
In the future, the University will upgrade networks to Wi-Fi 6 across libraries, classrooms, stadiums, and main campus roads, aiming to build an information highway across the campus and lay a solid foundation for an instrument sharing cloud, an intelligent computing cloud, and a service data cloud. Indeed, digital and intelligent, Southeast University has already embarked on a new round of informatization construction.
We sincerely thank Huawei and CERNET — the body responsible for China's education and research computer network, approved by the Ministry of Education — for their efforts in this Wi-Fi network upgrade and reconstruction project. Together, you have successfully built a visible, manageable, and controllable high-quality Wi-Fi 6 network for us.