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ITS Collaborates on Wireless Solution at UNC-Asheville


What happens when two UNC universities with shared resources both decide to implement eduroam–and confuse your wireless configuration while they’re at it?

In this case, staff of UNC-Chapel Hill Information Technology Services and at UNC-Asheville worked together to implement a complex solution to resolve the issue. The result? “Before this migration, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy students had to navigate through a hodgepodge of network choices in order to acquire wireless access for their computers and mobile devices,” said James Joyce, a UNC-Chapel Hill Videoconference Analyst working at UNC-Asheville. “This tended to ‘tether’ them to the few areas on campus where we had established UNC-Chapel Hill access points. Now, they can move freely from building to building without having to change what wireless service they use. It has been a big help for them.”

Working through the solution

Remove Carolina’s access points at the Asheville campus, which clears the airways, replace those access points with UNC-Asheville access points, and then create a backdoor link between the two networks to trunk UNC VLANs to the UNC-Asheville network.

This means faculty, staff and students working at UNC-Chapel Hill’s satellite pharmacy program, located at UNC-Asheville, are no longer connecting to wireless access points managed by UNC-Chapel Hill. Instead, they connect entirely to UNC-Asheville’s wireless access points, and through a cooperation between the two institutions, are treated no differently than if they were connected directly to UNC-Chapel Hill’s own network

The cutover during spring break 2016 worked without a hiccup, Turner said. When UNC-Chapel Hill users connect to a UNC-Asheville access point, UNC-Asheville recognizes the @unc.edu realm and assigns those devices to a UNC-Chapel Hill VLAN. This works pervasively across the entire UNC-Asheville campus and not just at the two locations that primarily house the satellite program.

“The change was totally transparent to users,” he said.

“One of the major goals with all of this,” Turner added, “was we didn’t want the Chapel Hill folks at UNC-Asheville to feel different.” Whether they’re at the Asheville campus or in Chapel Hill, their experience should be the same.

One key to the successful project was the collaboration among ITS, the School of Pharmacy IT support staff and the networking staff at UNC-Asheville. The details were hashed out through a videoconference; Ryan Turner coordinated the necessary work among all parties, including James Joyce, a UNC-Chapel Hill Videoconference Analyst working at UNC-Asheville, and Tim Burns, a Network Administrator for UNC-Asheville.

Joyce “did an outstanding job” of getting everything ready, communicating with ITS and managing the transition, Turner said.

“This is a complex solution,” Turner added, that will require continued collaboration whenever connectivity issues arise.

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