If you were one of the students, faculty, or staff who stayed on campus over the summer, you may have experienced a brief network outage as buildings rolled offline temporarily.

During the outages, network technicians replaced equipment in 102 different cable closets on campus. The upgrades were scheduled between May 12 and August 1, and coordinated with each department to minimize disruption to ongoing work.

The new equipment, combined with improved management software and enhanced security, features comprise our new wired network. With its launch in time for the start of the fall semester, the campus community will experience faster connections between buildings, to local servers, and to the Internet.

Equipment upgrades

“Each building has a network (cable) closet,” says Greg Miller, manager of Network Services. Each time a wired or wireless device connects to the network, data is sent through switches housed in cable closets. From there, “the switches in the buildings connect to routers that are centrally located around campus,” and the routers connect us to the Internet, says Miller.

“We’re replacing the switches and the routers,” from which, “the biggest benefit is plain ol’ bandwidth, speed,” says Miller.

“Our students eat Internet bandwidth like M&Ms,” echoes Troy Boroughs, assistant vice president of systems and networks. “As fast as we give it to them, they consume it. From that standpoint, we were maxed out. So, this will allow us to grow beyond what we could do previously.”

Since the installation of our last wired network in 2004, Internet use has increased exponentially on campus because of our growing, tech-savvy campus community, and our need to transmit richer, denser media and data, such as audio and video files and faculty research, says Boroughs.

In addition, Network Services is increasing our capacity to support Power over Ethernet (PoE), or the ability to power a device using a network cable instead of an electrical cable. New virtual network capabilities will also allow separate, secure networks to run through a single network cable.

Feeling the effects

Outages of any length or type can be frustrating, but shutting down our campus network stops more than Internet access. Thermostats, laundry and vending machines, surveillance cameras, building access, classroom equipment, and several offices around campus can’t function without the network, explains Boroughs.

“We have to take buildings offline to switch out the equipment,” says Kathy Monday, vice president of Information Services. “There’s no way we can do this work and maintain connectivity.  But the network team worked hard to ensure that each building was back up and running as quickly as possible.”

“In many cases it was just a couple of hours’ work,” says Monday, “but larger, more densely occupied buildings took longer to complete.”

“We’re always trying to make the classroom experience the best it can be,” says Kevin Creamer, director of teaching, learning, and technology. With the network replacement, classroom capabilities such as class-capture and live streaming will increase, providing students access to new sources of knowledge. Applications like Blackboard and OneSearch, which powers our library database searches, will run smoother and faster.

The new network will also allow students, faculty, and staff to collaborate internally and externally much more efficiently.

“A fast, efficient network is necessary to support scholarship and research,” says Monday. And our connection to the Internet allows us to disseminate that and share it with the rest of the world.”