NTS installation technician Nathan Gerber secures a Cisco 3750 "edge switch" in a tiny room in Coffey Hall. The team of 10 technicians is upgrading more than 2,600 switches in 800 closets.
From Gopher to GigaNet: UMTC network upgrade
Twin Cities campus wires for state-of-the-art computing
By Gayla Marty
From Brief, April 28, 2004
On a typical Gopher GigaNet morning, the installation crew checks in at the Information Technology Building, 2218 University Avenue S.E. in Minneapolis. Whatever the weather, they know they will spend much of the day inside--way inside. Gopher GigaNet is a fairly routine computer network upgrade but, because this is the Twin Cities campus, the project is big and will take months. More than 2,600 switches in nearly 300 buildings are being replaced in preparation for the change. When the mission is accomplished, Gopher GigaNet will make the Twin Cities campus network faster and more reliable. On this particular day, one month into installation, the ten crew members drive to St. Paul and fan out in teams of two. Nathan Gerber and Troy Kingore are assigned to a computer closet in venerable Coffey Hall. They are serious about their work: precision is key. They quickly and carefully put in place new equipment and wiring next to the six-year-old equipment, which will run until the cutover occurs, tentatively set for July. Some closets are fairly roomy. Others are so tight that real ingenuity is required to contain both new and old equipment. Some older buildings have so little space that installation will need to happen during the cutover.
"We've got the people on our staff who know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it," says NTS installation manager Louis Hammond.All installation work is being carried out by a group of trained field engineers and installation staff--expertise internal to the U. The upgrade will be accomplished without contracting outside staff. "The U is so big, and you have to know where things are," says Louis Hammond, installation team manager at Networking and Telecommunication Services (NTS). "Besides, we've got the people on our staff who know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it." In addition to the ten dedicated to the installation team fulltime, about seven more spend 80 percent of their time as backup and support. The entire NTS staff is involved and supporting the project, says Hammond. Day by day, the teams are moving south. So far, 362 switches and 111 telecommunications closets have been installed in 16 buildings in St. Paul. Work in Coffey Hall, for example, was expected to take about a week-and-a-half. Each stage of the upgrade process will begin in St. Paul, then move to Minneapolis. Work in Minneapolis begins on East Bank, south of Washington Avenue. West Bank is next, followed by East Bank, north of Washington Avenue. Off-campus buildings will be completed last. Real differences In the fast-changing world of information technology, data network equipment has to be replaced about every five years. Existing Twin Cities campus hardware is about six years old, is no longer supported by the original vendor, and can't provide for many advancements in computing. When the cutover occurs, some campus staff members won't notice the change; good planning means making improvements before problems begin to occur. But the differences will be real. With Gopher GigaNet in place, users with computers or servers that support higher bandwidth speeds can expect faster computer connections. The new equipment will be able to deliver gigabit service (also known as 10/100/1000 megabyte service) although it might be limited by wiring to any given jack. New teaching applications, like WebCT and streaming video lectures that deliver courses our course supplements, will get better support from the network. Researchers will gain access to a state-of-the-art network with high-speed access to Internet2, emerging collaboration applications like video-conference grids, and high-performance computing resources. Enterprise systems, such as PeopleSoft and the University Libraries Ex-Libris system, can continue to build and use Web interfaces to provide powerful tools for faculty, staff, and students. Departments will gain access to more information about their network connections' performance. Firewalls will provide greater network security. The big cutover The cutover to the new "core" infrastructure is tentatively schedule for the July 4 weekend. Once the new core is working, building-by-building cutovers will begin, again in St. Paul. Building cutovers will be completed on work days, so problems that may occur can be identified and solved immediately. The final building cutover will mark the end of a long process, which began in 2002 with the NTS design group.
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