School system tweaks its Wi-Fi for better control

Extending Apple's Bonjour across subnets will help N.C. school system

At the Rowan-Salisbury School System in N.C., students and staff use some 7,000 iPads and other iOS devices on a Wi-Fi network stretching across 30 schools. Not surprisingly, networking demands can get tricky.

The school system sometimes wants to restrict which printers and displays can be used with Apple's AirPlay and AirPrint technology over Wi-Fi, said Phillip Hardin, executive director of technology at RSSS in Salisbury. That way, certain printers can be tied to private student and staff information kept on iPads and other devices. "Also, we don't want someone projecting video in another classroom where it's not wanted," he said.

Conversely, Hardin sometimes wants to allow a video on an iPad to play on displays in various buildings, some using separate networks called subnets or virtual LANs. Today, Apple's Bonjour zero-configuration networking technology won't allow management controls across multiple subnets, but that's about to change, he said.

Hardin's looking forward to deploying software this summer from Aerohive Networks that allows more detailed management and control of Apple's Bonjour.

The tool, called Bonjour Gateway, is now in beta and will be a free software add-on to the school system's Wi-Fi network with its 750 Aerohive Wi-Fi access points (APs), Hardin said. The Aerohive-based network was installed during the past year at a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars, Hardin said, a price that was "significantly lower than others" the system had evaluated.

Those APs replaced AirPort Wi-Fi base stations, which Hardin felt required too much labor when software updates or changes had to be done on each device, Hardin said. Aerohive's technology allows for centralized updates that make changes across all the APs in less than a minute.

Hardin called Aerohive's technology feature-rich, with such capabilities as the Bonjour Gateway. "So far, we've only been able to run Airplay or AirPrint on a single VLAN. But once Gateway's rolled out, we can control multiple VLANs," he said. With the gateway, users won't even have to know the IP address of a printer, he said.

Aerohive has posted a YouTube video describing the gateway, which was announced in March.

This video from Aerohive describes its Bonjour Gateway.

The gateway is just one feature that will enhance the district's Wi-Fi, which is "making a difference in education," Hardin said. He cited one ninth-grade boy with reading problems who was able to borrow an iPod from the school to play a vocabulary building app called Word Warp over Wi-Fi.

"His use of words and reading is improving partly with that app, and that has helped him improve how he feels about himself," Hardin said. "It's stories like that they help us know we're making an impact."

The school system is so convinced about the value of Wi-Fi to improve education that it has also installed wireless routers from Autonet Mobile in school buses, so students can use Wi-Fi on long bus trips to attend sporting and other events.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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