The need for a wireless network exists everywhere, even on a campus as old and picturesque as the Cranbrook Educational Community. The trick was making sure that state-of-the-art technology could seamlessly fit in with the aesthetics of one the country’s most beautiful educational campuses.

Built in the early part of last century, Cranbrook Educational Community is located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The campus, with its stately brick buildings is comprised of a graduate Academy of Art, a contemporary Art Museum, House and Gardens, an Institute of Science and grades Pre-K through 12 independent college preparatory schools. Ranked number one in various fields, Cranbrook welcomes thousands of visitors and students to its campus each year. Designed by renowned architects, the Cranbrook campus was designated as a national historic landmark in 1989.

For all of its beauty and renown, the one thing that the campus didn’t have was a state-of-the-art wireless network.

To accommodate the many residents, faculty, staff and visitors a new network had to be deployed. For this job, the network had to cover the more than 40 core programmatic buildings on the 319-acre campus. Plus, they wanted to have ubiquitous 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless coverage. This coverage also had to extend into the dorm rooms where each user is allowed to register up to five devices.

There was one major wrinkle, the entire Cranbrook Campus is a National Historic Landmark. It was important to maintain architectural aesthetics during installation. The Cranbrook IT Team worked hard to follow the best practice wireless installation guidelines, while maintaining the historical aesthetics.

The Cranbrook Educational Community and Cisco devised a deployment plan that would make everyone happy.

Deployment Details:
• Access Points: 600 units of the award-winning Cisco Aironet 3800 Series Access Points with external antennas mounted on the walls with articulating dipoles. In areas, such as dorm rooms, stubby antennas were used to reduce overall footprint.

• Wireless Controllers: High Availability Pair of the 5520 Wireless Controllers that are currently running wireless software release

• Access Switches: Catalyst 3850 series multi-gig capable switches. The whole campus is cabled with Cat 6A cabling, allowing the 3800s to leverage their full 5Gb bandwidth capability.

Cisco Prime Infrastructure: installed 3.1.5 update 2 with MSE which is used to monitor and manage the switch and wireless infrastructure.

Cisco Identity Service Engine (ISE) version 2.1 is a key piece of the infrastructure, allowing Cranbrook IT and the numerous users to self-register their own wireless devices.

• Peak number of clients is 2,200. On-campus residents include approximately two hundred students, approximately one hundred residential faculty units and approximately eighty students in the Academy of Art dormitory.

• Core Infrastructure – Two Nexus 9372 switches with VPC utilizing dual 10Gb uplinks via single mode fiber, connect to 3850s at the distribution layer.

Cranbrook hosts 4 SSIDs:
1. Registration: SSID setup specifically to enable users to register their BYOD devices

2. Managed Asset Devices: School owned and centrally supported wireless laptops, wireless desktops, iPads, Microsoft Surfaces

3. BYOD: SSID where students, faculty and staff are redirected after they go through the device registration process to on-board a personal BYOD device

4. Guest: SSID with a simple acceptable use policy splash page for enabling connectivity to guest users that do not have Active Directory credentials

Cranbrook’s new wireless infrastructure supports the use of multiple wireless and cloud-based apps allowing for: dormitory management, digital signage and mobile device management. In high-density environments like gymnasiums or auditoriums, Cranbrook leverages the capabilities of the Cisco Aironet 3800s Access Points to support 200-300 users with only two or three access points.

Digital Smartboards utilize Wi-Fi, which enable teachers to stay connected as they move throughout the classroom. This eliminates the need to be tethered to the front of the room. The students are technology leaders and have won awards in the arena of robots. The IT team employs Prime Infrastructure to schedule turning off 2.4 GHz radios to avoid congestion with robotic controllers during competitions.

ISE is the main authentication and authorization point for all things wireless. Cranbrook uses ISE to allow users to self-register BYOD devices, redirect users to the appropriate VLAN, assign ACLs, and transparently pass RADIUS authentication to a Web content filter. Through the efforts of the Cranbrook IT team, the school was able to leverage the full channel width capabilities of the Aironet 3800s, while letting the controllers manage DBS and DFS via RRM.

In the end, the efforts of Cisco and Cranbrook paid off. Cranbrook got the state-of-the-art wireless network that it needed, all while keeping the old-school charm of its buildings intact.


Jeevan Patil

Director, Product Management

Wireless Network