CIO's Blog

Stephen Frazier, Western Illinois University

How High Can We Go?

Judging by the reaction of students living on campus, the bandwidth improvements on the residential network (ResNet) just before the Thanksgiving break were well received! The total bandwidth was increased from 265 to 520 megabits per second (Mbps), effectively doubling the former capacity of the network. Students have expressed excitement about this turn of events, which University Technology wanted to accomplish before the upcoming final exam period.

It might seem as though the networking team pulled a rabbit out of the hat to accomplish this latest bump in Internet speed. Actually, however, they had been working on it for the past 6 months or more. It began with a series of discussions with one of the two Internet Service Providers (ISP) that are providing bandwidth for the University’s networks. Although we had subsequenlty received one Gigabit of bandwidth capacity from this ISP for ResNet, we are still waiting for final word regarding the Macomb campus network bandwidth increase from our other ISP. However, being provided with additional bandwidth from the ISPs is only part of the equation.

Providing access to the Internet involves many types of equipment (including the University’s firewalls, switches, packet shapers, intrusion detection systems, copyright infringement detectors, etc.). Unfortunately, our currently-owned network gear has limited capacity to handle much additional throughput. Therein lies the real challenge because replacement of this equipment will require significant investments (the cost could be between one and two million dollars over multiple years). So, although our ISP is providing us with a full 1Gps for ResNet, we are only able to access half of it because of our curren tnetwork equipment’s capabilities. The rabbit (okay, there was one) that the team pulled out of the hat was a plan which allowed ResNet to take immediate advantage of a part of the 1Gbps bandwidth by removing a piece of network gear that was creating one of the bottlenecks. So, given our current equipment, the reality is that we are only able to take advantage of just over 50% of the new ResNet bandwidth now available form the ISP.

With these most recent changes to ResNet, the previous individual student’s 1 Mbps limitation has been removed. Students now have the potential of obtaining higher bandwidth during times when fewer students are on the network, such as between 2:00 AM and 10:00 AM. They should also see improved bandwidth numbers during higher usage times, which typically occur between 2:00 PM and 11:00 PM. Students will now see more variability in the speeds they obtain. It is possible one second to get 20 Mbps throughput and the next they might only see 3 Mbps or less, depending on how many students are concurrently sharing ResNet. Nevertheless, these speeds are a significant improvement over the original 1 Mbps per second limit that was previously in place.

University Technology has been developing a proposal for the longer term that leverages a phased approach to acquiring the needed equipment to overhaul both the Academic and ResNet networks. It calls for supporting a full gigabit initially with increases to 3 Gbps, 7 Gbps, and eventually 10 Gbps. The plan includes the use of open source solutions where applicable (which is an inititiative in the new IT Strategic Plan) and the elimination of some equipment that will create new bottlenecks as the ISP-provided bandwidth is increased. To keep all of the costs from being incurred in any one single year, acquisition of new equipment will be spread out over several years or more . This plan will be proposed and vetted in the new IT Governance Process, along with future enhancements to the wireless and wired infrastructure.

Not wanting to raise expectations while we grappled with the best approach to resolving the network bottlenecks, University Technology refrained from openly announcing plans before now. Interestingly, we might now be faced with another dilemma. Students who live in the residence halls may notice the disparity in speeds between the ReNet and the campus network, particularly when they use computers in the labs and classrooms. If they do, we ask for their patience and understanding as we work though the issues noted above.

2013-11-[15-21] ResNet Weekly Average

Resnet Inbound and Outbound Traffic

The graph above shows the significant difference that recent changes made in the Inbound traffic on ResNet.  Dan Romano (Director of Infrastructure Services) and I would like to recognize the network team that has been working on these latest improvements and a long term strategy, including Tim Rericha, Hosam Badreidin, Brian Andrews and Gary Douglas.