Mention central Maine, and the first things that pop to mind will probably be scenic and beautiful valleys and rivers, and lots of great outdoor activities. With these rustic images in mind, you may not expect to find high-speed and technologically advanced networks.

However, at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, that is exactly what you will find. Despite its small campus and small college vibe, Thomas is heavily invested in providing the best technology capabilities for its students and faculty.

According to Chris Rhoda, Vice President for Information Services and CIO at Thomas, “Our goal for the past two or three decades has always been to provide the latest technologies and tools to our students and faculty. And the reason for this is that when someone graduates, we want to make sure that they are that much more valuable to future employers.” Rhoda says that, because of this focus, they spend a lot of time and money on infrastructure and are proactive in their IT planning. And this dedication definitely plays out in their implementation of a high-speed and reliable wireless and wired network infrastructure that can serve as the backbone for all of their technology services.

According to Rhoda, having a strong Wi-Fi network is key to delivering technology to modern students. He said, “When it comes to a student’s perspective of college IT, really, it's Wi-Fi.” To support this environment, Thomas has made a big investment in having state-of-the-art wireless capabilities. Rhoda said, “We are not only prepared to provide Wi-Fi, but to do it at a density level that supports today's students, who have everything from a smartwatch to a smartphone to a gaming console to a tablet to a laptop, and any other device you can imagine. “The services that we offer are really good. Right now, we have 802.11ac on a quarter of our campus, and the next quarter of our campus will get it this summer. We're updating over 50 wireless access points this summer. We have hundreds of access points around campus.”

Given the size of this network, and the small size of Rhoda’s IT staff (which he lists as being 4 1/2 people), complexity of management for all of these devices could clearly be a problem, which it was for their previous wireless network implementation. He said, “Years ago, we had a wireless network that was fair – it wasn't great – and when we went to look for a new wireless vendor, we knew that we didn't want a controller-based network. We wanted something a little more decentralized, but that still had central management.

“We were also in the process of updating our wired network, and wanted to make sure that we continued to have a good backbone to support this infrastructure.” Rhoda said that they chose ADTRAN for both the wired and wireless sides of the house. “It gave us some peace of mind that if there was a wireless problem and it ended up being a wired problem, that we could talk to the same company (ADTRAN).”

One of the biggest benefits that Thomas saw from the new wireless infrastructure from ADTRAN was how it greatly eased the tasks of managing and updating the hundreds of access points on their campus. He said, “Our prior products, the WAPs, were all standalone devices – they were thick access points, and there was no central management of that. We couldn't push out an update or define settings and have that replicated throughout our hundreds of access points.”

With essentially one person serving as systems and network administrator, the cloud-based central management of the new wireless network made it very simple for this person to keep the network well-managed and up-to-date. The cloud-managed ADTRAN network has also made it possible for Thomas to meet the high-demand requirements of its students and faculty, not only in educational uses, but for the students who live on campus. Rhoda said, “We know that the majority of our bandwidth is used from our residential halls – why wouldn't it be? Our students live on campus, and for them, it’s not just where they go to school — it’s home. We really focus to make sure we have more capacity than they’re using and that we always stay a year or two ahead of them.”

Through this high-speed wireless network with cloud-based management capabilities, Thomas is able to continue to meet their mission of giving students all of the technology capabilities that they need to succeed in the modern world. By building a strong network backbone, Thomas College makes sure that the network is a road to the student’s future, and not a roadblock that they need to overcome.

For over 20 years, Jim Rapoza, Senior Research Analyst and Editorial Director at the Aberdeen Group, has been using, testing, and writing about the newest technologies in software, enterprise hardware, and the Internet. He previously served as the director of an award-winning technology testing lab based in Massachusetts and California. Rapoza is also the winner of five awards of excellence in technology journalism, and co-chaired a summit on technology industry security practices. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and expositions, and has been regularly interviewed as a technology expert by national and local media outlets including CNN, ABC, NPR, and the Associated Press.