On March 11, Director of User and Technical Services Karen Warren sent a campus-wide email announcing that Information Technology Services (ITS) will be replacing network equipment. The new system, which underwent its first phase of installation over the break, will make the connections of both computers and research equipment faster. The new devices are also more environmentally efficient and cost effective than the previous system. This is the first network upgrade that the University has had in nine years.

Upgrading the system requires modifying certain components of the campus network. The core switches, which are located on the fifth floor of Exley, make up the center of the network. These switches send signals to the second layer of switches, called the distribution centers. Those centers then send information to all the buildings on campus. The goal of the upgrade is to replace the equipment at the second and first layers with newer, more efficient computing devices.

According to Warren, who is heading the project, the system needed an upgrade because students are using more bandwidth, or are transferring more data, than ever before. Older switches in the previous system maxed out at a lower level of information flow than the switches of the newer system, which will be able to store more digital information. The new network system will run 10 times faster than the previous system and will use less electrical energy in the process.

Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer David Baird used an analogy to explain the upgrade’s effects on information flow:

“If you imagine trying to put out a fire with a garden hose, that hose can only carry so much water,” Baird said. “That’s the old network. Then if you imagine a thick pipe, it can carry way more water. That’s the new network. We are increasing our ability to carry data across campus because we are widening the pipes.”

Warren pointed out that updating the infrastructure of the network has already provided increased speed for data processing in research labs and finance offices. She added that upgrading the core network has laid the foundation for future technological advances at the University.

“In terms of technology, students care most about wireless,” Warren said. “Our project next year is to increase our wireless saturation and have a lot more connection points throughout the campus. But in order to expand our wireless, we first have to expand our infrastructure.”

ITS has been working on updating the network since February after completing extensive research, bidding processes, and discussions with various vendors this past fall. The first stage of the upgrade was scheduled over spring break, so that network disruptions would affect as few students and faculty as possible.

Warren says that the second phase of the upgrade is tentatively scheduled for April 20, which will mark the final changes in the network’s distribution areas. The project is expected to be completed by late June. The new network’s devices also have the potential to be more easily modernized than previous ones had. ITS expects to update the system again within the next three to five years.

Baird sees this network upgrade as a huge step for the University’s modernization potential.

“One of the things that I care about is that we are now going to be up there with our peers,” Baird said. “We will have one of the fastest networks that any of the schools that we compete with will have.”

The implementation of the new system has substantial sustainability implications and cost-reduction potential for University expenditures. The new network will require less electricity to run and to cool its systems. Over the break, the compressor coil for air conditioning in the server room was replaced with a newer, more efficient one, which is already saving the University energy and money. Assistant Director of Technology Support Services James Taft manages the University’s data center and is particularly interested in the sustainability aspect of the project.

“Our old core switches plus the switches that are used for our storage networks consumed 24 amps of electricity,” Taft explained. “Those are now being replaced by switches that use less than four amps. Each of four new circuits that are plugged in are drawing less than one amp, which is a significant reduction.”

Warren added that she was excited that the new network’s environmental impact was coming into the discussion at all.

“Ten years ago, sustainability wasn’t even on the radar of most IT staff,” Warren said. “Most people weren’t talking about this. Now they are. That’s what’s exciting.”

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