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OIT re-engineers new Net connection

Scott Brodfuehrer | Friday, March 5, 2004

The Office of Information Technologies has worked to re-engineer its new Internet connection with the service provider and optimistically hopes that it will be activated again in two weeks.The connection was activated twice last week, but hardware failures both times rendered the connection inoperable several hours after it had been activated. The connection will initially replace the Internet connection to all buildings on campus except dorms, increasing the bandwidth from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps. The Internet2 connection will also be increased from 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps.Chief Technology Officer Dewitt Latimer characterized the two failures as a surprise on the part of the University, disappointment on the part of the Internet service vendor and embarrassment on the part of the hardware vendor.Latimer said that during the second attempt to activate the connection, both the Internet service vendor and the vendor of hardware that transmits data through the fiber to the Chicago were monitoring the connection. It failed approximately one hour after activation, and while the connection was later re-established, the hardware vendor was unable to explain why it failed, prompting OIT to request that a different hardware vendor be used.”It’s one thing for it to fail and the hardware manufacturer to say, ‘Yep, we know exactly why it failed …’ but when they keep throwing their hands up in the air and saying ‘We’re not really sure why it failed,’ that’s when it’s time to do business with another company,” Latimer said.Hardware from the new vendor, Cisco Systems, has been ordered and will be installed by the Internet service vendor. OIT will then test the connection again before attempting to reactivate it.Similar testing, pushing the maximum 100 Mbps of traffic down the link, also occurred before the connection was activated both times. Additionally, four South Bend companies had been using the fiber for Internet access for 45 days before Notre Dame activated its connection. But no one has been able to explain why the connection functioned with the test traffic and the companies’ traffic, but failed when Notre Dame used the link.”We are still trying to understand what differences existed between the test and production grade traffic that may have triggered the equipment failure. We are not waiting for that to occur, we are going to insist that they use equipment that has been demonstrated to be effective in environments just like this,” Chief Information Officer Gordon Wishon said.Latimer said the failures were out of the control of the network engineering team, which deserves praise for their efforts to implement the new connection.”If anybody had a sour taste, it was them. They busted their tails to do this right and got penalized by a gremlin in the network gear,” Latimer said.The initiative to change the Internet connection was undertaken over a year ago in an effort not only to increase bandwidth, but to lower the costs of Internet service, which are extremely high in the Michiana region due to a lack of competition.”Notre Dame is in a region that has traditionally not been well served by the major national carriers,” Wishon said. “The effect of the lack of competition in the area was principally felt through high prices.”Latimer said that the new connection, which is a direct feed to Chicago, will cost the University about eight times less than its current connection with the service provider Genuity.Wishon said the process of installing the connection, called a “dark fiber,” was approached as a development initiative.”It’s not an easy engineering feat to get a dark fiber or any fiber connectivity across that span of distance [from Notre Dame to Chicago] …” Wishon said.While the new connection will be contractually limited to a bandwidth of 100 Mbps, the connection has the ability to allow 600 Mbps of bandwidth to Chicago.Initially, it will not carry dorm Internet traffic from ResNet, which currently has 45 Mbps of bandwidth through South Bend service provider Gramtel. By the summer time, though, this traffic will be shifted to the new connection and the University will no longer use Gramtel for an Internet connection.However, the University will maintain a connection with Gramtel that can be activated in short notice in the event that the new connection should fail.”It would be nave on our parts to put all our eggs in one basket, even though the circuitry is engineered to be redundant throughout,” Latimer said. “The future also holds to promise of additional redundant connections between here and Chicago.”