UNCC hopes Meru tool can help keep WiFi running

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is using new software from Meru Networks Inc. to detect potential performance problems on vital Wi-Fi networks and, it hopes, help instructors avoid downtime while administering online tests.

The software, called Meru Networks Service Assurance Manager (SAM), was introduced on Tuesday, but has been successfully tested and partially deployed at UNCC for about six weeks, said Brian Fruits, networks services manager at the university.

Meru officials said that SAM pricing starts at $25,000 for the first 100 APs being managed.

"Most of the time, we hear about wireless issues long after they happened," Fruits said in an e-mail. "With SAM we can automatically get notified of potential wireless connectivity problems with all the diagnostic information included in a report."

Having diagnostic information when a wireless outage begins is "immensely valuable," Fruits said. "When an instructor calls because the wireless is down, you are working against the clock ... but with SAM we can typically know about the problem before the instructor does and can gather information remotely to determine where the service chain is broken."

Many instructors use Wi-Fi to enhance course instruction or to administer tests. Fruits said SAM has commonly been helpful when a campus Intrusion Protection System flags suspicious traffic from a wireless client and automatically quarantines public access for an entire wireless region of campus. "When you get the call that 'wireless is not working,' if you don't look at the IPS first, this type of issue usually takes a long time to identify. Now I can start with SAM and skip several steps."

UNCC has about 600 Meru wireless APs located campuswide. The Meru APs replaced Cisco Systems Inc. gear about five years ago, Fruits said.

Fruits said he will delay a full deployment of SAM until the next software release, in order to take advantage of additional features expected in that version. Timing for the next release has not been disclosed.

Meru CTO Vaduvur Bharghavan said in an interview that SAM can be vital in many organizations, especially in hospitals where patient monitoring and emergency medical response efforts make it imperative for Wi-Fi to continuously function.

Bharghavan said SAM will be difficult for competitors to imitate because most Wi-Fi product makers create APs that work over multiple radio channels.

In Meru's architecture, all the APs in a network operate on the same channel to simplify end-to-end service assurance. That means that each Meru AP can run wireless client tests for connectivity, latency and performance throughput using virtual clients on each AP. No extra sensor hardware or client software needs to be added to the network, he said, which will help lower costs.

This story, "UNCC hopes Meru tool can help keep WiFi running" was originally published by Computerworld.

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