U Georgia: Squeezing New Networks into Old Buildings

By Linda L. Briggs

The assortment of housing needed to contain computer and A/V equipment in a classroom or library might not be at the top of an IT department's concerns, but perhaps it should be. At the University of Georgia, top-of-the-line housing protects high-tech controls from fire and theft, helps to fit new equipment into old buildings, and has improved the appearance of large racks of computers at the school's library and student center.

High-end computer housing helped the school during a rebuilding and re-outfitting of the university's main library. A fire destroyed portions of the facility, causing $6 million in damages, including the library's network infrastructure and telecommunications system.

Using the disaster to improve the network infrastructure, university officials used special high-end equipment from Hoffman, a manufacturer of systems for protecting electronics, to house its complex computer equipment. Complicating the situation was the fact that the telecom rooms were small due to constraints posed by the building's architecture, so equipment had to be squeezed into small, unconventional spaces.

That's not unusual, according to Scott Frary, telecommunications cabling installation manager at the university, which is one of the oldest universities in Georgia. Old buildings and lack of room space on campus often call for creative solutions.

"Space was at a premium, and the building was never designed with a network in mind," Frary said about the library project. "So we had to use Hoffman products to… carve out some telecommunications space in there. There just wasn't a lot of floor space, or room they were willing to give up."

Hoffman helped the university find equipment that could fit old buildings and small rooms. "We had to take products that weren't necessarily devised for that purpose, and use them in some slightly different ways," Frary said.

A retrofit at The Student Learning Center presented another challenge. With 276,000 square feet of floor space, the center is the largest building on the campus. It features 26 general classrooms, nearly 100 group study rooms, 500-plus computer workstations, more than 2,000 laptop connection drops, and wireless Internet access throughout the building. The university needed attractive enclosures to protect the telecom, electronic, and network equipment from heat and humidity while looking good at the same time.

"This was the first time we've done a major project like this," Frary said. Working with university architects and with Hoffman, they eventually created 11 telecommunications rooms at the center, with phone, cable TV, and data cables, plus network switching, patch panels and cable TV equipment.

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Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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