Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has completed the installation of Forescout’s network access control platform as part of a long-running plan to rationalise, upgrade and secure its once-sprawling Wi-Fi network.

The new CounterACT NAC system will allow the University’s 25,000 students and 2,500 staff to use Wi-Fi across its three campuses in the city, avoiding the old system’s inconvenient and much complained about requirement that an agent be run on each endpoint.

The roll-out is part of a year-long project to consolidate the NCU’s fragmented Wi-Fi provision into a single network. This currently serves 6,000 concurrent endpoints and 10,000 ‘seen’ ones such as smartphones, tablets and gaming devices that use the system on a guest basis.

Meeting the rising expectations of the University’s users had been a major spur to change, said NTU core networking team leader, Mark Pearson.

“For today’s UK universities and colleges, the student is king. We need to look at our wireless network strategy from the perspective of ensuring that connecting to the network is as painless as possible, regardless of the device in use,” he said.

“The main selling point for ForeScout was the fact that it was so much easier to use than our previous NAC solution. Once we connected the CounterACT appliance to the network, we had it up and running within 30 minutes.

“CounterACT is also non-intrusive to end-users, which was critical. The other NAC solutions we looked at were clunky and more challenging, and, like our previous NAC solution still required an agent to be deployed on each endpoint,” said Pearson.

The Wi-Fi boom meant that the number of devices using the University’s network had risen sharply, many of which were granted reduced access as ‘unknown’ devices.  At the same time, CounterACT allowed sanctioned devices to be given fuller access after being checked for their security state, he said.

The upgrade had also reduced support calls, cutting costs. As well as requiring no configuration at the endpoint, CounterACT could be installed as a single appliance.

The need to upgrade Wi-Fi access while solving the insecurity that comes with BYOD has been a running theme in the UK university sector of late. Last August, Wolverhampton University bought a Palo Alto NAC system after encountering similar problems to NTU with an obsolete NAC system. This echoed a wireless upgrade at Oxford's St Anne's College.

Across the country, universities face much the same problems coping with BYOD; students demand Internet access from an astonishing and growing array of devices that can't be actively managed but must be secured.