Historic Honduran University Revitalized with an SDN Campus Network
Founded in 1847, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) — the National Autonomous University of Honduras — is the oldest national public university in Honduras. It offers over 140 programs, from bachelor to doctorate levels, and is home to over 120,000 students and faculty members. Currently the largest and highest ranked university in the country, it's also one of the largest university systems in the whole of Central America.
Of UNAH's nine campuses, two — UNAH-Ciudad Universitaria (CU) located in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital, and UNAH-Valle de Sula (VS) in San Pedro Sula, a key industrial center — account for 80% of the student body.
Universities in Latin America seldom provide on-campus accommodation, and UNAH is no exception. With nine campuses and a sizable student body, however, UNAH's professors and administration staff were still left facing diverse challenges.
Each year, UNAH welcomes more and more students. With the UNAH-CU and UNAH-VS campuses providing best-in-class resources, in terms of both faculty and assets, the university's other seven campuses were left struggling to keep up. Indeed, more remote campuses even lacked resident professors, forcing faculty members to travel long hours between different campus branches.
Decision-makers on each campus faced another basic, serious challenge — communication. Using conventional videoconferencing on Personal Computers (PCs) lacked engagement, so the leadership often had to spend half their day or more traveling for monthly in-person meetings. This was time-consuming, expensive, and often unsafe.
Within campuses, Wi-Fi coverage was also inefficient and patchy, making it difficult for teachers to work on the go. And most Information and Communications Technology (ICT) devices on the legacy network were sourced from different vendors, following vastly different systems and standards. The university's ICT Operations and Maintenance (O&M) team had just 10 members, all located at UNAH-CU. As a result, managing devices across nine campuses was a very real struggle, and response times to issues at other branches was very slow.
Swirling amid all these challenges, cutting-edge technologies in networks, public clouds, online education, and interactive electronic classrooms were quickly becoming the norm around the world. Eager to keep up, UNAH began to look at ways to go digital, determined to become a pioneer in the digital overhaul of universities in Honduras and the wider Central American Higher Education Union, or Consejo Superior Universitario Centroamericano (CSUCA).
As a first step on its digital transformation journey, UNAH looked to network connectivity as the foundation to success and a basic requirement to support electronic classrooms, video security systems, and data center services.
The university selected Huawei as its digital transformation partner following AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 Proof of Concept (PoC) tests. Together, then, UNAH and Huawei set out to build a next generation digital campus network, deploying Huawei's CloudCampus Solution.
Wi-Fi coverage is indispensable for campus digital transformation. But with 30 buildings at UNAH-CU alone, and 15 at UNAH-VS, this appeared to be quite the task, particularly as coverage was also necessary in key open areas like campus roads.
To plan full network coverage, UNAH used Huawei's cloud-based 3D wireless network planning tool, which is both highly efficient and adaptable to a variety of contexts. The tool simulates intuitive signals and roaming, optimizing full signal coverage for target areas while using the minimum number of wireless Access Points (APs), boosting cost-effectiveness.
UNAH also deployed Huawei's next generation AirEngine Wi-Fi 6 to ensure smooth coverage for terminals in high-density sites, along with several optimization solutions for areas with coverage holes.
Using the 3D wireless network planning tool and AirEngine Wi-Fi 6, UNAH now has campus-wide wireless coverage with zero blind spots. Teachers and students alike enjoy high-quality network access at a baseline rate of 100 Mbit/s anywhere on campus.
UNAH is a leader in public and private higher education and its core campus network is key to supporting not only its nine campuses, but also five telecenters and eight Learning Resource Centers in Distance Learning — Centros de Recursos de Aprendizaje de Educación a Distancia in Spanish, or CRAEDs. Thankfully, all are now equipped with Huawei's award-winning CloudEngine S12700E series switches.
CloudEngine S12700E offers the ultra-high performance and ultra-large capacity needed for non-blocking and lossless data transmission. The switches support heavy-traffic services, including multimedia teaching, remote teaching, online learning, and video and audio data.
CloudEngine S12700E is also equipped with a programmable chip that integrates the capabilities of a wireless Access Controller (AC), making it easy to manage APs and wireless user access. Wired and wireless networks are now fully integrated, with centralized service forwarding and device and policy management. And, of course, the need to deploy a standalone AC or use a dedicated AC card has been eliminated. In short, one CloudEngine S12700E centralizes device, user, and policy management, ultimately allowing UNAH to better control network deployment and reduce operating costs.
Overseeing its legacy network, UNAH's Information Technology (IT) administrators were often found traveling between the university's nine campuses, even for mundane routine maintenance tasks. This was time-consuming, labor-intensive, inefficient, and ultimately led to a poor user experience, with prolonged periods of downtime.
To radically overhaul this unsatisfactory status quo, UNAH deployed Huawei's next generation iMaster NCE-Campus — an Autonomous Driving Network (ADN) management and control system for campus networks — as the intelligent brain of the entire campus network. This platform centrally manages and controls network-wide resources, implements detailed management, and automates user policy provisioning.
iMaster NCE-Campus also supports multi-tenant architecture and enables Software Defined Networking (SDN)-based network management. This means that all of UNAH's nine campuses have been created as sites on a single iMaster NCE-Campus platform. With each site virtually isolated from the others, campus administrators can manage them individually based on rights and domains.
On traditional networks, administrators have to log in to individual devices to configure and inspect services. Now, with Huawei's management platform in place, UNAH's IT staff can easily complete network configurations and provision services remotely, online, and in mere minutes. They can also centrally monitor all devices on the entire network and easily perform O&M tasks, such as device inspection and one-click device upgrades. Overall, O&M is now far easier, more convenient, and more flexible.
"Thanks to this new platform, we can now provide more bandwidth, which allows much smoother and faster communication with a lot less latency," UNAH's Network Manager noted. "We can also guarantee that our team can quickly resolve any type of failure, making us much more resilient."
For convenience, both faculty and students prefer to use wireless networks, making network security a key focus. iMaster NCE-Campus addresses this by providing multiple access authentication modes, such as portal, 802.1X, and Media Access Control (MAC) address authentication.
Specifically, students can use convenient, user-unaware portal authentication, where customized portal pages and bulletins can be pushed based on pre-set conditions. Meanwhile, 802.1X authentication, which is more secure, can be adopted for teaching terminals and faculty offices. And MAC address authentication is necessary to ensure network access security when it comes to dumb terminals and Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints. On top of all this, iMaster NCE-Campus can record network access accounts and terminal MAC addresses to ensure traceable user network access for even higher network security.
iMaster NCE-Campus also automates deployment across the network and quickly adjusts services. This transforms a traditional network with SDN, supporting centralized and visualized management, monitoring, and O&M across the network. Now, IT administrators can quickly locate and rectify faults, significantly improving the user experience.
SDN creates a highway for service transmission, from video security systems to electronic classrooms and data center services. This in turn lays a foundation for UNAH and Huawei to deploy a complete set of smart campus and safe campus solutions.
By choosing Huawei's CloudCampus Solution, UNAH has effectively addressed many of its digitalization pain points. The university now enjoys better Internet access, improved teaching resources, and more efficient O&M, along with stronger support for future needs and network evolution over the next three to five years.
With this robust network foundation in place, UNAH and Huawei have enabled video security systems, electronic classrooms, and data center services, paving the way for a smart, safe campus.
"We have started the process of technological transformation in our universities and have initiated an important process for higher education in all our countries in CSUCA," said Juan Carlos Soto, Director of the Technology Convergence Project at CSUCA. "This is a project about more than just smart campuses: it is about the development of new technologies like telepresence systems, electronic classrooms, Wi-Fi 6, 5G, the cloud, and many other cutting-edge technologies that are being developed worldwide. On this occasion, we have made a strategic alliance with the Asian giant Huawei, which has given us unconditional support in all areas and with who we are directly linked in this alliance because it is a comprehensive solution. Our university students can really see this advancement."
Long-term education digitalization drives the transformation of campus networks of today and tomorrow. As the highest ranked university in Honduras, UNAH is not only the guiding body for national talent cultivation in public and private higher education; it is also the frontrunner in building next generation digital campuses and setting an example for network transformation across the CSUCA region.