Success Story: SFAI Deploys 802.11ac Wi-Fi To New Campus

Rowell Dionicio

Located in the historic Herbst Pavilion in prime San Francisco Bay waterfront, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) opened a new campus at Fort Mason Center. The Fort Mason campus is home to over 160 art students and faculty in a large 67,000 square foot space. There is 4,300 square feet of exhibition galleries which is open to the public, 160+ artist studios, performance spaces, a student lounge, multipurpose teaching spaces and staff offices.SFAI transformed the Fort Mason building on Pier 2. Previously it housed pieces of crates and trash. At one point it used to house military supplies. $50 million later it is beautifully remodeled for SFAI graduate students. A building like this comes with its own set of technology challenges which is SFAI looked to Packet6 to deliver a modern Wi-Fi network with new network infrastructure.The school's wireless network was finally due for a network upgrade and the Fort Mason campus was going to get it. Many parts of the campus were still using Cisco 1231Gs, providing 802.11a/b/g to students, faculty, and staff. To make matters more challenging, the access points were autonomous. Each one would have to be managed individually without a central network management system. Keeping up with the demand of Wi-Fi connectivity was a challenge solved with the new Wi-fi access points being deployed at Fort Mason. The students, staff, and faculty can benefit from using 802.11ac with modern devices and SFAI IT can centrally manage their Wi-Fi network.


“The San Francisco Art Institute worked with Packet6 to configure and deploy a Wi-Fi network in our new 67,000-square-foot graduate campus. They helped accomplish this goal quickly and professionally.” – Patrick

With SFAI bringing in new technology generations ahead of what they had on campus, they looked to Packet6 for the knowledge and expertise in Wi-Fi design, configuration, and deployment. Packet6 helped to augment the existing IT team to provide a reliable network within weeks of the grand opening of the Fort Mason campus.

SFAI's goal was to provide a fast frictionless Wi-Fi network to the students, staff, faculty, and visitors. Coverage throughout the campus was a must and more importantly, capacity. SFAI decided to go with the Cisco 3802 access points. The 3802 access point upgraded their network to 802.11ac. A significant upgrade from their 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi network.

Analyzing the RF environment.
Analyzing the RF environment.

A total of 31 Cisco 3802 802.11ac dual band access points were purchased, mounted, and wired throughout the campus. Powered by a stack of Catalyst 3850 switches and protected by a Cisco ASA firewall, Packet6 configured the switches, firewalls, configured the Mobility Express controllers, and created secure tunnels back to SFAI's main campus. Initially, the Cisco Converged Wireless was a selected solution. Packet6 made the recommendation to migrate away from Converged Wireless and into an updated and supported platform, Cisco Mobility Express. A pair of the Cisco 3802 access points were converted to primary and standby virtual controllers to manage the other access points.

The location of each access point were predetermined and wired by the building architect. Packet6 utilized these locations and produced a predictive site survey to help visualize what the Wi-Fi network could look like with the Cisco 3802 access points. After the access points were mounted and powered on, Packet6 configured the access points via the virtual controllers according to the RF plan Packet6 designed. A validation site survey was performed to produce a report confirming proper operation and consequently successfully closing out the project.

As a result of the new 802.11ac capable network, students and staff have had pleasant experiences on the Wi-Fi network. From what SFAI IT has heared, “People are very happy with the speed.”

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