Reagan foundation turns to HPE Aruba for its next-generation network

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – SiliconANGLE.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute has a history of hosting Republican presidential debates at the Reagan Library. However, for the most recent Republican presidential debate on Sept. 27, 2023, the foundation faced the unique challenge of doubling its wireless network capacity. This was necessary to facilitate a live network feed for the debate and support the press and attendees involved in live streaming and post-debate interviews.

Addressing existing network challenges

The Reagan Library campus is spread over 400 acres, with buildings occupying 100 acres. Since the foundation is currently a customer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s HPE Aruba Networking, those 100 acres were already covered by an HPE Aruba mesh network.

During the Sept. 27 presidential debate, more network coverage was needed in new areas, including temporary structures such as a 25,000-square-foot media tent. The tent was designed to accommodate more than 400 media personnel needing a dependable wireless network to upload their work.

Though reliable, the existing access points or APs were not optimized for the latest devices. To meet the massive scale of the event, which involved hundreds of staff, security and media attendees, the network coverage had to be extended to additional areas such as candidate trailers and the Air Force One Pavilion. The foundation also had to tackle the logistical challenge of providing connectivity to 11 news crews in front of the Reagan Library, which previously lacked network coverage.

In many cases, 4G/5G cellular can handle the excess capacity of a Wi-Fi network. However, this was not an option because the Reagan Library is in a remote location with little to no cellular coverage. Wi-Fi is the only wireless communication medium that would work from there, so it was critical the network was both reliable and robust, despite the short deployment timeline.

“This was such a last-minute thing because we weren’t sure if the Reagan Library was going to be a debate host, so we were going to need some reinforcement regarding our wireless network,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief data and digital commerce officer for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

Expanding the network to meet new demands

HPE Aruba Networking responded with a comprehensive solution by deploying AOS 10 and 9240 gateways, 2930F switches and 30 total AP-534s with external antennas and outdoor AP-585s. This setup ensured complete coverage, including thirteen AP-534s in the press tent and four AP-585s outside. The HPE Aruba Networking team coordinated everything from materials to engineering support, while CDW was the conduit through which all the materials were purchased.

Given time constraints and budgetary limitations, two networks were operating simultaneously. The first was the existing network using the HPE Aruba Networking 7200 series, while the second network used the new 9200 series and provided coverage in previously unavailable areas. This dual setup was necessary since the foundation couldn’t afford to migrate all the assets from the 7200 series to the 9200 series, said Fitzpatrick.

“We’ve got at least seven different networks that are running on the 9200s, each one of them is manicured in the HPE GreenLake console, attached to HPE Aruba Central,” said Fitzpatrick. “We find it very easy to work in that atmosphere rather than actually doing work directly on the controller.”

The network handled more than 1,000 users and nearly 3,000 devices during the debate, with the Reagan Library observing considerable growth in traffic. Initial estimates suggested that approximately 592 gigabytes of data were transmitted. Yet, later estimates suggest that the actual figure was much higher because of additional zones that were not tracked. According to Fitzpatrick, it appears that nearly 1.5 terabytes of data was transmitted, which is a significant increase compared with the 400 gigabytes in the 2015 debate.

Looking ahead: plans for network enhancement

The foundation is continuously working to improve its networking capabilities. It currently has two 9200 controllers from HPE Aruba Networking, and a project planned in 2024 will ensure the controllers operate in a redundant failover mode using HPE GreenLake. The project’s goal is to enhance network reliability and efficiency.

Additionally, there are plans to implement automation features for network scaling. Since the entire network doesn’t always need to be active, new features in GreenLake and the 9200 series controllers could be used to activate APs selectively based on the specific needs of different areas on the Reagan Library campus. Therefore, only necessary parts of the network will be active at any given time.

One area I wanted to explore was the importance of HPE’s GreenLake. Wi-Fi is broadly available from several vendors, but I often find the deployments suboptimal with poor network performance. “The project could not have been completed without GreenLake,” Fitzpatrick said, validating that GreenLake is more than a pricing model. It turns complicated deployments into turnkey ones, speeding up deployments with predictable results.

Lastly, the foundation is exploring artificial intelligence in network management, especially for cybersecurity. Fitzpatrick said AI is seen as both “exciting and intimidating,” especially in the context of its application within network systems.

The technology could benefit the Reagan Library’s small information technology team, which maintains the extensive wireless network across campus. AI can assist with monitoring network health, alerting the team to issues such as malfunctioning APs, network downtimes,or the presence of unauthorized users.

The foundation recognizes AI’s potential to improve its wireless network management and enhance the efficiency of limited IT resources. Although the wired network is managed differently, there is much left to explore regarding AI.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.