BobcatNet getting full upgrade

By on March 6, 2013
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Quinnipiac students are accustomed to renovations, but the school’s latest project is one that has gone largely unnoticed. Beginning last summer, Quinnipiac University has been working hard to upgrade BobcatNet, its wireless network.

Madeline Hardy | The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Partnered with Aruba Networks, Inc., a leading provider of network access solutions, Quinnipiac’s network will receive a full upgrade. The university is currently replacing many of its older Cisco access switches with new Aruba Networks switches. These new switches, located in closets across all three campuses, were installed to accommodate Quinnipiac’s growing population and the constantly increasing uses for the Internet.

“The student population has grown, the faculty population has grown. The Internet itself, the consumption of traffic, has grown,” Vice President-Chief of Information and Technology Officer Fred Tarca said. “All of this growth that has taken place on our campus truly exercises the network. We are always taking a look at our network architecture to make sure we are optimized to provide the best possible experience we can for faculty, staff and students.”

According to Information Security Officer Brian Kelly, the new switches will improve the speed and flexibility of the school’s network. Kelly said the network has more than 24,000 devices connected to it, and the number keeps growing.

As more devices, such as tablets and smart TVs, break into the marketplace, the network needs to adapt to support the increased bandwidth. According to Kelly’s network tests, BobcatNet has devices from 232 different manufacturers connected to it. Between smart phones, computers, gaming systems and other devices, each student averages between four and five devices on the network.

“When a student comes to our campus with two or three different devices, they want them to connect to our network,” Tarca said. “We constantly have to be aware of our network’s capabilities, so the upgrade that we just performed has instant provisioning, or the capability of recognizing these devices.”

In addition to adapting to new, student technologies, the network upgrade will also boost Quinnipiac’s academics. The Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine was built with the Aruba Network switches installed. This will allow students to study at the most technologically advanced medical school in the United States, according to a press release from Aruba Networks.

“The network for the med school has to be able to support not only students, but academic research,” Kelly said. “The cadavers that come in will be scanned, so if you’re dissecting a body you can actually get that image on a screen and pivot it in three dimensions.”

Aruba Networks’ switches utilizes Aruba’s Mobile Virtual Enterprise, or MOVE, architecture. This technology allows for faster speeds, making these new technologies at the medical school possible.

The MOVE architecture also enhances Quinnipiac’s online security, one of many selling points to Tarca.

“The upgraded network is so much better able to address the ever increasing security issues that we are faced with on a day-to-day basis,” Tarca said. “Having secure data at a university is extremely important. Think about all of the personal information we keep here.”

Universities store students’ personal information, grades, health records and financial information. For Tarca, keeping this information secure is paramount.

The medical school and the residence halls at the York Hill campus were built with these switches installed, but the North Haven and Mount Carmel campuses needed the network upgrade in order to ensure the best security and access speeds possible.

Although Information Security has been hard at work since September to install the new switches, there is still a lot to be done.

“All of the academic buildings have been upgraded,” Kelly said. “We will probably get to a few [residence halls] during spring break and [finish] certainly by the summer.”

Upgrading the switch closets is a long, ongoing process, Kelly explained. Before the switches are installed in the closet they need to be unpacked and configured. Once this is done, the actual task of updating the switches in the closet can take as many as five hours.

Kelly estimates his workers have installed around 200 new switches since September. His department has one of the smaller staffs at Quinnipiac, so most of the work has been performed by two workers.

“In these closets there’s anywhere from four to eight switches in a rack. They have potentially as many as 48 ports per switch,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to physically unplug all of the Ethernet cables, and you’ve got to physically take these switches out and plug the new ones in. It’s time consuming. We couldn’t have done this project without the hard work from Dave Reynolds and Gary Bliven.”

Reynolds, a wireless network support specialist, and Bliven, a network information and communications specialist, had to work late hours in order to install the new switches in the academic buildings when classes were not in session.

While the Aruba Networks switches greatly improve Quinnipiac’s network capabilities, they are not a final solution. The network is constantly growing and adapting to meet new student and faculty needs. As the university anticipates further growth, the network will continue to upgrade and meet the needs of Quinnipiac’s community.

“The Quinnipiac University network will be there to accommodate as many devices as we need to meet the requirements. Right now it’s 24,000 to 30,000 [devices], maybe in a few more years it’s 50,000. We will be there ready and capable to do that,” Tarca said.

Kelly said the most difficult aspect of managing the network is not the device count, its anticipating the future. The Internet has more multimedia elements than ever before, and with those new elements comes heavier bandwidth. New technologies such as Google Glass are constantly emerging and poised for release. The network may soon need to adapt further and accommodate an entirely new wave of devices.

“Managing this network is not just one project and you stop for a few years, it’s not too dissimilar to painting the George Washington Bridge,” Tarca said. “As soon as you finish you’ve got to go back and start all over again.”

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About Daniel Grosso

Associate News Editor
Email: news@quchronicle.com
Twitter: @Daniel_Grosso
Year: 2013
Major: Print journalism
Hometown:Avon, Conn.
Dream Job: Reporter for ESPN