Information Technology ensures faster Internet connection

By Alexandra Kukulka

Internet crashes are common in any office space with many users. Bruce Sheridan, chairman of the Film & Video Department, said his building has already experienced a wireless outage this year, something he said is a frequent occurrence.

The Information Technology Department has figured out a way to solve this problem.

The department has been working to update the college’s outdated infrastructure since January because of recurring Internet crashes  in early fall 2011, as reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 3, 2011.

This semester, the IT Department installed a “dark fiber ring,” a new system that provides faster Internet speeds and connects 16 buildings within three miles, said Richard Piotrowski, director of infrastructure for the department.

“We are now in the process of migrating all the buildings on campus to a new student network, which will allow for faster data [and] being able to move larger files from building to building,” Piotrowski said. “But we are doing that in a building-by-building matter.”

The IT Department is currently connecting the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building to 10 gigabytes of Internet bandwidth. However, all the buildings will notice a small increase in speed as a benefit of being connected to the network, Piotrowski said.

The 33 E. Congress Parkway Building is the first to be upgraded with faster Internet speed, said Bernadette McMahon, associate vice president and chief information officer of the IT Department.  It will take 15 months to update all the buildings, she added.

Pantelis Vassilakis, chairman of the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department located in the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building, said he is enthusiastic about the new system, though he understands it will take time for the entire college to access faster Internet.

“We have seen some spikes in performance, which have happened at the time when the system is switched on,” Vassilakis said. “It is not really fully functional anywhere—as far as I know—at the college yet except for isolated rooms in a few buildings.”

According to Piotrowski, more buildings that are connected to the fiber, the more Internet access will improve, he added.

The fiber ring should reduce the number of network crashes because the Internet is faster on the fiber and won’t be bogged down by the heavy traffic, said McMahon.

Redundancy, or the circular connections of the buildings, is another factor that will prevent Internet crashes, Piotrowski added. Because all of the buildings will be linked in a circle with multiple connections, the system will still function even if one wire crashes, he said.

“We have multiple Internet providers for the college,” Piotrowski said. “If one of those Internet providers has trouble, we have the system to reroute it to the other [wire].”

On the administrative level, the department is saving 62 percent of the network infrastructure portion of its budget by switching to the dark fiber ring, McMahon said.

“The college is saving money that will then get put back into other technologies,” she said.

The college ended its contracts with AT&T, its previous provider, when it secured the lease for the dark fiber at a lower cost, so savings were immediate, Piotrowski said.

According to McMahon, some of the contracts with AT&T were ending when the college brokered the deal, while others had to be bought out. However, that did not affect the amount of savings that was instantly seen by the department she said.

“AT&T is expensive by nature because they are one of the few providers in Chicago that could [supply] the bandwidth if you don’t have your own fiber,” Piotrowski said.

With the new fiber, the college will now control the speed of the Internet in each building, Piotrowski said.

Previously, AT&T would determine the speed of the Internet and change it according to equipment and the location of campus buildings.

The dark fiber will allow the college to give all 16 buildings the same Internet access and speed.

In the future, when the network standard surpasses 10 gigabytes, the college won’t have to go to a service provider to upgrade the system, according to Piotrowski. Instead, it will remove the current equipment and replace it with its own upgrade.

This will still be cost-effective because there won’t be contracts involved, he said.

“Before, we couldn’t afford to give the same amount of bandwidth to everybody, but now we can,”

McMahon said.