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Networking | Project Spotlight

ResNet Separation

Kentucky's University of the Cumberlands has extended its network by creating a residence hall network separate from its core campus infrastructure. The results have been improved service for students and more available bandwidth for faculty using data-intensive applications in their classrooms.

When University of the Cumberlands set up its first campus network in the early 1990s, its IT team never envisioned the need for multiple networks across campus. Comprising a core switch plus secondary switches in each building, the setup provided network access to faculty, students, administration, and staff on the school's Williamsburg, KY campus.

It took about 10 years for University of the Cumberlands' network to begin showing its age. In the early 2000s--right around the time that laptops and mobile devices began to infiltrate college campuses--the school's network usage reports revealed significant jumps in dormitory network usage. "As the number of network-ready devices per student began to increase," said Justin Hensley, IT support administrator, "the need to move from a shared 45 megabit circuit to a segregated dormitory network became very clear."

In 2010 University of the Cumberlands' IT team explored its options and decided to create a separate network for the school's residence halls. Hensley said the impetus was the need to relieve the administrative network of the added traffic while also providing better service for students in the dorms.

"We were placing limits on student and faculty network usage so that both groups would be able to do their work," said Hensley. On the student side some of that "work" would come to include gaming, Skype calls, and unlimited downloading and Web surfing. "Not only was the student body growing," said Hensley, "but it also needed more freedom to use the campus bandwidth for recreational activities."

In order to provide that level of freedom University of the Cumberlands would have to overhaul its dormitory cabling plant and install single-mode fiber to 12 dormitories. Cisco high-speed switches were installed in every dorm, along with a core layer 3 central office switch. Other components that were installed included a Cisco ASA firewall to protect student machines, a 100 megabit circuit from Windstream, a packet-shaping solution from Exinda, and software from VMware.

The project was funded internally, and everything but the cable and equipment installation was handled by University of the Cumberlands' IT department. It approached the network overhaul by breaking the project into three phases: the first step was to shore up the existing cabling infrastructure, then replace the switches, and finally split the dormitory network from the existing administrative network.

Hensley said all phases went smoothly and presented no significant challenges for the IT team.

"Anytime that you set up a core network you're going to run into some little snafus here and there," said Hensley, "but we already had a similar network set up and a lot of what we did was just 'copying' that existing system." Extensive testing was completed prior to launch to ensure a smooth transition for students moving off the administrative system and onto their dedicated network.

According to Hensley, just a few months after the network's installation in September 2010 the average maximum network inbound throughput was 95 megabits per second, almost saturating the school's new 100 Mbps Internet line and further cementing the need for the new network.

Measuring the Benefits

When University of the Cumberlands wrapped up its network overhaul in the fall of 2010 it saw the benefits of the move pretty quickly. Here are the six key advantages the school gained by undertaking this IT project.

  1. Reduced administrative network traffic.
  2. Improved bandwidth for faculty members who are using more multimedia in class.
  3. An additional ISP line that can be used during emergency outages and for disaster recovery.
  4. Detailed traffic reporting that the IT team relies on to provide better quality of service.
  5. Much improved network user satisfaction.
  6. More bandwidth for resident students--both for academic and recreational use.

The new setup also helps the university's IT team keep computer viruses at bay. "Dormitory machines are always more susceptible to viruses because we have less control over them," Hensley explained. "By splitting off the dorm network we can more easily curtail an emergency situation without worrying about it making its way over to our administrative network."

Other key benefits that University of the Cumberlands gained from its network overhaul included an additional ISP line that can be used during emergency outages. Should a line get cut from one ISP, for example, the school's network could be back up and running within just a few minutes. "It's a great disaster recovery tool for us," said Hensley.

User satisfaction has also risen noticeably since the school segmented off its dormitory Internet access from the rest of the network. "Students picked up on it right away," said Hensley, "and told us that their Skype connections, Xbox games, and Netflix videos were running a lot better with a lot less buffering and stalling."

Even with student and faculty bandwidth needs rising every year, Hensley said he expects the university to get a lot more mileage out of the network it installed two years ago. "This wasn't a quick fix," he said. "We put a lot of thought into it and took the time to pick the best possible equipment and solutions to go into our new setup. Both our IT team and our users are very happy with the outcome."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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