The College's Data Network serves all thirty-six buildings and a large number of outdoor resources like Blue Light Phones, Security Cameras and exterior wireless access points.
The internal network is distributed from our core facility via buried fiber-optic cables to each building. Inside each building is a Building Distribution Frame where the incoming fiber is connected to a stack of network switches. These switches distribute connectivity through copper Ethernet cabling to wireless Access Points installed in buildings. We also have the capability to provide hard-wired network connections to student rooms upon request.
Our core facility provides an interface between the campus network and our Internet Service Provider. We share 2 1000Mb/sec links to the internet, and in a typical month during the semester the network handles about 40 petabytes (more or less) of data inbound from the internet to campus users, plus about half that heading outbound. Besides routing functions, our core facility manages registration of user network equipment, firewall protections, intrusion detection / prevention, wireless networking, virtual private networking, and overall traffic monitoring / regulation. It also hosts a number of servers carrying out different supporting functions for networking.
Besides data moving among user computers and other user devices, the campus network handles traffic for campus fire alarms, energy management systems, Voice-Over-IP phones, security cameras, electronic display boards and a host of other smaller-scale devices.
The network is very reliable. Our goal is to provide network connectivity with a reliability of .999, which means that services will be unavailable for less than nine hours in an entire year. Not counting the occasional planned outage to allow for maintenance work, we have successfully met that goal. Sometimes segments of the network can fail when individual pieces of equipment on the network edge break. For example, a stack of switches could go down in a power failure, or a fiber optic cable could degrade - this could affect users in half a building. Routine monitoring usually reveals these issues (or the users call the Help Desk), and we respond to quickly repair the faulty hardware.
Networking & Telecommunications also works hard to keep equipment current. We upgrade software and replace hardware on a regular schedule to ensure that traffic flows smoothly, and we frequently evaluate alternatives to the equipment we use to see if there is a better way to do business.
MAINTENANCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE CAMPUS NETWORK
Our staff is constantly working to maintain the College Network in top condition. We do firmware upgrades on equipment, clean and test fiber connections, replace hardware that is no longer supported by the manufacturer or just plain obsolete, try out new technologies we encounter in the industry, and train to develop new skills.
The Campus Data Network has been in place for a long, long time. It started life as a copper-cable telephone system back in the 1960s. In the 1980s the College began to install its first runs of copper and fiber-optic cable to connect the few computers in existence then that could benefit from a network connection. That fiber-optic cable network grew rapidly with the advent of internet access in the 1990s and eventually connected every building with the Colleges Network Core facility in Milne Library.
That original network architecture and the cabling that carries it has served us well, but it became increasingly clear that we had to take steps to upgrade it. Not only did we see a need to replace old fiber-optic cabling with new, higher-capacity cable, we knew that we need to have more of it and also provide options for multiple-pathways between core and buildings. The data network began life as a interesting new tool for a few computer scientists and students, but gradually became a mission-critical element of the campus. Just about all of our activities now ride the data network, so we need one that is high-capacity, fast, reliable and resilient.
This project is designed to take the first steps in that direction.
During the summer of 2015 our contractors dug trenches between various buildings, installed four, four-inch diameter conduits in the the bottom of the trench, and encased them in concrete. These conduits are pipes that connect together at network vaults and therefore connect each building back to Milne and Netzer. The contractors filled the trenches, refinished the surfaces (grass, concrete, paving, etc.) and moved on.
The next step, to be carried out in September and October, is to have our contractors pull an insert through the conduit-pipes. These inserts are smaller in diameter (two-inch) and contain a bundle of 15-20 even smaller tubes, each about the diameter of a pencil.
Once these bundles of tubes are installed and connected together to form pathways from the core to the edge buildings, then Telecommunications technicians will install Air-Blown-Fiber. Instead of slowly and physically pulling cable from point to point, Air-Blown-Fiber works by feeding the end of a fiber-optic cable into the small tube, attaching a compressed air line to the tube, and literally blow it from one end to the other in a matter of seconds, neatly feeding the cable from one building to another where it can be polished, cleaned, terminated and connected to carry data. The beauty of this system, besides making installation easier, also makes it very simple to replace fiber - it can just be blown back to the source and a new length installed. This is particularly important as technological advances offer greatly enhanced capacity in the future.
You will see our contractors at various Telecommunications manholes with large spools of tubing insert - they will be pulling it from one manhole to the next to get it in place, and then they will go back into the holes to physically connect the individual tubes.
All of this is in service of a vast and high-density network on campus to carry all kinds of data - recreational networking, email, internet traffic, academic data transfer, administrative traffic, you name it. We all depend on wireless networking, but what it's hard to appreciate is that wireless networking is only wireless for about the last fifty to a hundred feet. Behind that access point on the wall or ceiling, there's very literally miles and miles of copper wire connected to network hardware that in turn connects via more miles of fiber optic cable to the network core.
College campuses are probably the most challenging environments to do network engineering. There's no other environment with the same massively-high density of users, with thousands and thousands of network devices demanding vast amounts of data transfer at high speed with extremely high reliability. Consequently, a very large proportion of our time, energy and resources is devoted to maintaining this critical infrastructure.