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Cornell Wraps 3-Year Network Upgrade

Cornell University has formally wrapped up a three-year network connectivity upgrade project at its Ithaca, NY campus, which came in faster and considerably less expensive — $19 million vs. $34 million — than a prior plan. When Ted Dodds joined the university in 2010 as CIO, he set a goal to bring the institution up to par with peer schools. That meant a more modern, standards-based network infrastructure to support its research and educational missions and capable of streaming voice, high-speed data and video. More pragmatically, he also offered a challenge to the IT organization to take on the initiative with far less time and less money than they originally thought possible.

The work started in mid-2012 and included network revamps in 46 campus buildings, 17 of which went wireless only. (Three buildings were eventually removed from the original scope due to lack of funding.) That included replacing CAT-3 cabling with CAT-5 and CAT-6. Network switches were upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet and Power over Ethernet and emergency backup systems were upgraded. In buildings where no telecom room existed to hold that networking gear, new rooms were created.

Installation of 12,945 new cables and network faceplates was done at night, between 10 and 8, so that the work wouldn't disrupt users.

Many areas that had little access to the Internet received much better service overall by increasing wireless coverage and replacing old access points (APs) with 802.11n APs.

The project also included adding voice-over-IP phones to about 2,200 desks, and all buildings that were upgraded now had emergency phones on every floor, with a direct line to Cornell University Police.

On the financial side, each building was treated as a separate capital project with its own contracts and bids, and the funding came from multiple capital budgets. The university used outside companies to install the cabling; in-house IT people handled other aspects of the job, including voice and data network service cutover.

"The campus is now served by a network capable of fully supporting Cornell's research and educational missions by delivering information at the higher data speeds used by contemporary devices and providing the bandwidth required for today's network-intensive applications," said Dodds, who has since added vice president for IT to his title. "Areas of campus that were previously unserved now have network connectivity," he added.

The program came in on time and under budget, according to the university.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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