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Working on the Network

Two little yellow cables, glass and wire, covered in plastic, thinner than my pinky finger.

These provide the entire Internet connection to Eastern’s St. David’s campus.

At the beginning of this semester, the campus almost tripled its Internet speed. What was previously a 15 mgB/s connection grew to 40 mgB/s, the connection speed of approximately 25 T1 lines.

This Internet access flows into McInnis through fiber-optic lines from the service provider Yipes. Once on campus, those yellow cables travel to a data center that connects all of the online systems of Eastern’s local access network, including those for grading, email and finances.

The data center resides in Room 119 in McInnis, full of wires and whirring sounds and air conditioning to keep the system cool. According to Mike Sanker, the network administrator, the cramped conditions and heat in the system’s old location were likely culprits of system crashes in earlier years. The new room should provide more stability, he said.

Despite these factors, the network crashed on Oct. 10 and was down until midmorning the next day. According to Sanker, this was because a port failed. The problem was discovered and another port was used instead, but this second port crashed also.

Sanker suggested that the systems’ age of five years could have been a factor, or there could have been a denial service attack, which is when a computer resource is intentionally targeted. A backup link could be installed, but may not be an effective solution since this is the first instance of port failure.

Diana Bacci, who serves as both registrar and vice president of information and technology, has another solution in mind. “We’d like to have more people trained or available to detect and diagnose problems,” she said.

For those concerned about Internet speed, the rate is not likely to change soon. “We have speeds comparable to other universities our size in the area,” Sanker said, “and we’ve checked that out.”

In order to make sure students are getting the Internet access they need for their education, administrative computing is able to regulate what network use gets higher priority, but they use the ability minimally. Regular web traffic gets highest priority; streaming applications such as QuickTime and YouTube rate second and file-sharing applications have lowest priority.

The department is working hard to make two yellow cables and a room full of machines serve a campus of thousands of users with many different needs. “With anything this mechanical, things break that we can’t always anticipate,” said Bacci. “But in our strategic planning process, our board, president and fundraising team are all very committed to continuing to improve these services for students.”

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