The Argus is planning to run a story on the IWU network and sent some questions to our staff. Our Network Manager Chris has prepared a response to the reporter and I’m reprinting it in full here!
1. Why is the Internet as slow as it is? Is it that we only have one server, limited bandwidth, etc.?
First off, the Internet being slow is a composite problem. The first issue being the core router, the network equipment that connects all buildings at IWU to the internet, is over 10 years old and in need of an upgrade. It has served us well over the last 10+ years but is coming to the end of its life here at IWU.
The 2nd factor is the bandwidth use on our connection to the Internet. Currently we have 90Mbps connection to the Internet. This 90Mbps of bandwidth runs at about 100% capacity from 10:00am until about 02:30am.
A third factor is the network equipment (Enterprise Network Switches) that reside in the data closets in each campus building. This equipment, in most buildings, has also reached its end of life. The age and performance of this equipment, along with the Core router, and Internet Connection affect the overall network performance a person using the network experiences.
Changes in the type of applications that are accessed across the network have increased the demand of our network. As more and more web sites are using Flash, Java, streaming audio, streaming video, and higher resolution graphics, the demand on our network, our core router and our internet connection has grown exponentially.
2. How would we go about fixing the Internet? What new hardware, software, etc. would we have to purchase and how much would it cost?
To fix these issues is expensive, but it is a normal cost for universities to incur if they provide network and Internet connectivity to their students.
The replacement of the core router is budgeted at $100,000. This is an expense that should only occur once every 5-8 years.
You never really fix the Internet connection. You add more connectivity, as you need it, as you can afford it, and then you try to regulate the traffic the best you can.
To fix the old network equipment in most of the buildings, there is really but one option, you replace the older equipment with new, higher performance equipment.
There is really no fix to the demands that are constantly growing on our network equipment either. We, IWU, just have to keep growing and enhancing our network. As time, staffing and money permit we will replace the older equipment with new equipment. This is a never-ending replacement cycle.
3. Why do we not have wireless in the dorms? Is it just because the internet is already stretched so thin or is there another reason?
Decisions were made a several years ago, when IWU introduced wireless technology to campus, to put wireless technology in places that aided and furthered the academic goals of the University. Wireless network access is available in most academic areas – Shaw Hall, the CNS, Buck Hall, The Ames Library, Stevenson Hall, etc. The decision was also made to install wireless in areas that students congregate so they (students) could also take advantage of the conveniences of wireless. We do have wireless in two residence halls, Rust House and Adams Hall. Wireless is also available in the East Street Apartments. Why only those locations will be answered below.
4. Lastly, what is your opinion of the Wesleyan network? Can it be improved? Have you tried to improve it in the past and come up against some obstacles?
My opinion of the IWU network is not a secret. It needs to be upgraded in many areas. The core needs to be replaced, the switches in almost all the building need to be replaced and the Internet connection needs to be upgraded.
Technology is cyclical; the only one point in time you have the state of the art network is when you initially purchase it. After that, the technology falls quickly behind what is being newly released. That is the nature of the game. We are at the end of a cycle and just about ready to enter the beginning of a new one.
So what are we doing to make improvements?
IWU has already entered into agreements to enhance the bandwidth for the campus. Remember I said we have a 90Mbps connection to the Internet? Well, we are scheduling an upgrade to a 145Mbps connection. This is all ready in the works. I refrain from giving any definite time frames because much of this depends on third party vendors and we have little control over their schedules. The bandwidth upgrade was initially scheduled for September 9, 2011. The date was pushed to November 28, 2011 by the local loop vendor. The local vendor has escalated the upgrade, so we are hopeful the wait will not be much longer.
Currently, and I mean right now, we are preparing to order the new core router. We have an approved a quote from a vendor for the equipment and are starting all the preparation that is required to replace the existing core. We are shooting for a Spring break replacement of the core, but this will depend on how fast the vendor can deliver the new equipment. I can say, on IWU’s part, we are ready to go with this one.
Building Network Equipment
For a couple of years now we have been in the process of replacing the network equipment in all the buildings on campus. The initial budget figure for this project was $1.2 million. Not a small project by any means. IWU has taken a multi-phase approach to replacing this gear that helps spread the cost for less impact on the budget. We are still moving forward with the project and each year are making progress. This year, network equipment in the Data Center, Presser Hall (including wireless), the Memorial Student Center, CLA wireless, and one residence hall to be approved for replacement. Additional wireless equipment to improve the current wireless infrastructure has also been approved for purchase.
Wireless in Dorms
Currently we are seeking creative ways to pay for campus wireless in dorms. We understand that it is a technology that the students want to see and use in the dorms. We understand, we want to deliver wireless, but we not only need to be able to fund a wireless network, but we also need to be ready to take on the financial responsibility to fund this new wireless network into the years to come. Just like the wired network, it is not just a one-time purchase, it will need to be upgraded and replaced as the demands on grow.
With any technology, one obstacle is money. It is no big secret that these are hard economic times and the dollar does not get what it used to. IWU has done a beautiful job balancing the delivery of a top-notch education with keeping up on all the other financial demands.
We currently have one individual that handles the entire wired network, wireless network and Internet connection. At any given time there are multiple network projects going. The network person has to balance which projects he works on, maintain and monitor the network, try to plan for an ever-changing environment where new network devices are introduced every day, and respond to network outages when they occur.
Communication is probably another obstacle. When the students want something or perceive a problem, they need to let Information Technology Services know. This goes for faculty and staff as well. We are always happy to talk with and explain what is taking place in ITS.
In closing, I am impressed with what IWU is doing and how the University is responding to the computing demands of the campus community. The Administration is listening, taking time to understand, and finding ways to budget for technology refresh and upgrade projects. They recognize that technology is not just a convenience anymore, but a vehicle to deliver and improve educational services. Stand by, great changes are coming. 🙂
I appreciate the concern you have for what is happening in IT at IWU. We welcome the sharing of those concerns and are always open for discussion with the student body.
Director of Network Services
Illinois Wesleyan University