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Campus IT Department Gets an

With the growing popularity of peer-to-peer data exchanges such as Napster files and other non-academic activities, most college and university IT departments are fighting a constant battle to maintain enough bandwidth to meet the needs of their campuses. Both large and small institutions are facing the problem and addressing it in various ways. Pacific University, a school of about 2,200 students in Forest Grove, Oregon, is no different. Its IT staff noticed a big change in campus Internet usage patterns when students returned to school in August, 2000. The T1 line that had been serving the campus well through the summer session was suddenly w'efully inadequate. Everyone, including the students, the faculty, and even the president was calling the IT department about the problems they were having with Internet access.

"It had gotten to the point that classes were being dismissed because they didn't have access to the Web-based resources they needed," said Ted Krupicka, Associate Director of University Information Services for Pacific University. "Between noon and five p.m. we were dealing with very heavy student use. We had an idea about what was causing the problem [Napster as well as other music sharing programs] but our staff was consuming far too much time trying to identify and contain it to really sort it out."

Krupicka and his staff were frustrated that they weren't able to determine who and what was taking up all the bandwidth. Although they were unable to distinguish between academic uses of Napster (for instance, by music majors) and recreational use, they decided to block it with a firewall anyway. This did alleviate the bandwidth problem for a time. Krupicka discussed the problem with others, inside and outside the university, and determined that, while they would have to add another T1 line, simply adding bandwidth to the campus network wouldn't solve the problem completely. Adding bandwidth just made peer-to-peer file swapping faster, and even that only slightly. The firewalls, too, wouldn't be a permanent solution without more information on how the network was being used.

"One of the biggest problems we faced was simply identifying the traffic," said Krupicka. "As late as Spring 2000, we were at least partially successful in blocking Napster with the campus firewall. But by the time [the students] got back from summer vacation, they had found other ways around the firewall. New peer-to-peer applications and proxy servers set up to make Napster look like other types of traffic made that completely ineffective."

Given the complexity of the problem, and the immediate importance of returning the school network to good health, Krupicka tried a new approach, installing a PacketShaper 4500 on the campus Internet link.

PacketShaper, from Packeteer, is an application-based traffic and bandwidth management system designed for applications running over the WAN and Internet. It enables organizations to identify and classify applications, analyze application performance, and enforce bandwidth application as needed. Administrators can also generate reports on usage and the results of allocation decisions. For Krupicka, being able to see what the traffic was and where it was coming from was invaluable. "We were able to discern how much traffic was coming from residence halls as opposed to academic buildings. We also discovered some sharing programs that were using up a lot of bandwidth, so we limited access to those," he says.

The results at Pacific University, Krupicka said, were even better than he expected. Within hours of installing the PacketShaper, he and the others on the IT team were getting calls from students and faculty telling them how much better their Web access was. And although some students missed being able to access the peer-to-peer sharing programs, most recognized that they were also much better able to get on the Internet to do their homework.

Krupicka notes that PacketShaper has been a useful diagnostic tool, as well. "Recently our network came to a crashing halt. We were able to determine where the troublesome traffic was coming from," he says.

Krupicka estimates that the tool is saving Pacific University about a year of time before they'll have to add more bandwidth, so "in that sense it is paying for itself," he notes. His department was so pleased with the results that they recently hosted a seminar for the Pacific Northwest HEAT (Higher Education and Technology) consortium of local colleges on bandwidth management. Co-sponsored by the campus's new Berglund Center for Internet Studies, with support from vendors (including Packeteer, Cisco, Verio, and AdTran), they guided IT professionals from 14 neighboring colleges through various problems and solutions.

For more information, contact Ted Krupicka at [email protected] or (503) 359-2927.

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