Fall Semester is in full swing here at VCU, as are many important IT projects and initiatives. Over the past year and into the fall, we have continued to invest in our infrastructure to meet the increased demand placed upon the campus network. In this month’s CIO blog I would like to focus on three such initiatives:
Project: 10 Gig to the Desktop
Network Services is working with the Chief Research Information Officer on building out a high speed network that will result in supplying 10 gigabits to workstations in the Richmond Academy of Medicine (RAM) building. Special LAN cabling, new single mode fiber, and high-end network devices are being installed to support the project. This network, the first of its kind at VCU, will tie into the 40 gigabit Research network (Researchnet) and will provide researchers in this area with the ability to use the huge amount of bandwidth to access and transfer large data files at UCC and Harris Hall. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Sanger Hall Network Refresh
VCU Network Services maintains a program of continual refresh of aging network equipment to reduce the likelihood of a hardware failure and to help avoid technical obsolescence. Equipment is targeted for replacement when manufacturer support ends, typically after six or more years in use, or when required to stay abreast of demands for new technology. Because of the size and complexity of the network in Sanger Hall (over 5,000 network ports on 155 switches), the refresh project for Sanger Hall was handled as a separate project.
This year, 61 switches were replaced between May and August. The new switches provide 1Gbs (gigabit per second) desktop connections, improving speed, as well as addressing the aging equipment issue. Implementation interrupted service for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the equipment involved, but that went largely unnoticed as replacement occurred outside normal working hours and peak utilization periods.
University Fiber Upgrade
Bandwidth utilization continues to climb as more and faster servers and end user devices come onto the network with new applications and larger file sizes to transfer, often requiring millisecond response times to function correctly. Currently, backbone segments top out at 10Gbs, and some core segments already often see 5Gbs of traffic. In order to meet future requirements in education, research, and security, the fiber optic cabling plant will need to be upgraded to support 40Gbs and eventually 100Gbs interfaces.
While newer portions of the fiber infrastructure will support the higher speeds now, other portions will not. The oldest segments of the fiber plant were installed over 20 years ago, when 10Mbs was considered high speed. Additionally, the topology of the network – how devices are tied together – has changed dramatically over the years. The topology changes, along with changes required by building demolition and construction, have left us with a somewhat fragmented infrastructure that sometimes makes it difficult to meet demands. A comprehensive fiber upgrade plan has been developed that will support the higher speeds that will be required in the near future. The plan also addresses the topology issues, as well as providing pathway redundancy to help provide disaster continuity in the event of damage to the infrastructure.
Phase one of the fiber upgrade plan was completed earlier this year and is providing additional fiber via a redundant pathway between Harris Hall and Cabell Library. Once the Cabell Library addition construction is complete, this link will provide primary connections between Monroe Park Campus routers and the core backbone network, as well as secondary links for MCV routers.
Implementation of phase two of the fiber upgrade plan is about to start and is expected to be complete in January 2015. Phase two includes upgrading the fiber from the University Computing Center at 900 E. Main Street to the router locations on the MCV Campus. In addition to providing the primary links between the MCV Campus routers and the core backbone network, the cables will be sized to eventually support the secondary links to the Monroe Park Campus routers, as well as new lateral connections to many MCV Campus buildings. Additionally, the fiber will enter 900 E. Main via a different physical route from the rest of the existing fiber, providing disaster recovery options for the critical resources at the University Computer Center.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the VCU Service Awards ceremony at the Siegel Center. Among the large number of VCU staff and faculty being recognized were 31 Technology Service team members, seven with 25 years or more. We will recognize these individuals at our Divisional meeting in October, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who work hard every day to develop, deliver and support technology that helps to transform lives.