OIT launches new student wireless network, Purple Air

After more than a year of development and a summer trial run, the College launched its new wireless network, Purple Air, this fall. The network replaces the previously existing Student and Facstaff networks.

A variety of factors prompted the move, including issues of security. Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer at OIT, explained that the new network is markedly more protected than its predecessors.
The new network also marks an upgrade in ease, no longer requiring users to log-in to the wireless service every few hours. Instead, users now log-in only once after arriving on campus. OIT predicts there might be additional work involved when changing a password.

“For me, the biggest reason for getting Purple Air to work was simply the convenience of not having to log-in every time I opened my laptop or moved to a different building,” said Chris Brauchli ’11, a computer science major who helped with the project. Brauchli began working on the project intermittently in January and stayed on through the summer to work full-time.

Though it is often difficult to make the Internet more secure while also more accessible, Purple Air seems to be doing both. “Security and usability often pull in opposite directions, but this project has improved both in our wireless service,” said Taylor.

So far, OIT considers the new network a success. “What we didn’t really anticipate was just how many individuals have multiple devices that can support Purple Air,” said Todd Gould, network and systems administrator. Over 2300 unique devices have used Purple Air so far.

Integrating new students onto the network, while largely free of difficulty, has not been completely seamless. Some users had to upgrade their patches in order to make Windows XP compatible with the network, and a couple of students have complained of recurring security notices.

Overall, though, users have responded enthusiastically. “I have talked to dozens of students asking them specifically how they felt about this new way of connecting to wireless, and all seemed thrilled with not having to log on every few hours anymore,” Taylor said.

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