Internet Issues Cause Disruptions Across Campus

Joe Norfolk, Contributing writer

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Recent Internet problems on Black Hills State University’s campus and Residents Halls caused a bit of a headache for students, staff and Director of Network and Computer Services Fred Nelson. Over a period of two weeks in late October, students and staff may have experienced slow Internet or even none at all, in part due to a recent upgrade to the network. The problem has been resolved and shows no problems currently.
To address the rapidly changing network security environment, as well as to work to increase capacity and better meet demand, a pair of next generation firewalls were installed on campus and along with this, came a few problems. The network in the Young Center encountered a system failure and – after some troubleshooting – the problem was isolated down to a network switch that had failed. The switch needed to be reconfigured to handle large data packets. Configuring the switch to larger packets gives them the capabilities of handling larger amounts of information to pass on what the networks require.
The Young Center was not the only area on campus effected by the addition of new technology. “The change in the Young Center had a cause and effect over an additional switch in the Student Union that took some time to identify the repeat issue. The wireless Internet was working fine in the Union but the cabled Internet connections were not,” said Nelson. According to Nelson, this was the first time this specific problem has happened on BHSU campus.
Having no Internet connectivity at all, some classes were forced to be cancelled. Jerry Rawlings, Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, had no choice but to cancel one of his History of Photography lectures. Rawlings projects images using Apple TV and with no Internet connectivity he couldn’t access images to present and lecture to his class.
“As frustrating as it was for myself and the students, I am certain that my frustration paled in comparison to what the IT department was going through” said Rawlings.
In addition to classroom activity being disrupted, the BHSU Bookstore suffered some lost revenue. Michael Jastorff, University Bookstore Director, explained that, without Internet connectivity, the cash registers cannot be linked to the servers and they had to close the store up.
“When you’re closed, you can’t do business, no business means no money” said Jastorff. Jastorff also mentioned that fortunately this time of the year isn’t the busiest of times, so the lost revenue was not tremendously costly.
Solving problems like this is not a one-man job. Nelson is part of a team which also includes two infrastructure staff members and two others that manage the servers. Currently there are 195 servers, 250 wireless access points, and about 5,000 wired connections to be maintained across BHSU. There are times when calling in additional system experts to try and expedite a resolution is necessary.
“We really want to hear when there are problems, we can’t fix it if we don’t know about it. We want to hear comments from the students, good or bad” said Warren Wilson, Chief Information Officer.
Nelson and the tech staff are fighting a seemingly never-ending battle with bandwidth. “Bandwidth is an issue we deal with constantly. The demand is growing exponentially” stated Nelson. With Christmas break coming up, students will be leaving to go home and will more than likely receive new iPads, tablets, phones and other streaming devices, so the demand for bandwidth will keep rising. Say there is a rough estimate of seven-hundred students living in Residents Halls, multiply that by four. Each student with four devices: a tablet, a laptop, a phone, and a video-game console,” Nelson said. This results in a high amount of bandwidth used – leading to slower internet and even some who are unable to access the internet if changes are not implemented. According to Nelson, Netflix is sixty percent of network traffic in the residence halls.
It was recently decided to open up extra bandwidth as an experiment to see what the students are using as far as the amount of data in Residents Halls. Students in the Residents Halls currently have a subscription of 100 Megabits per second – Mb/s – of data that they share. This experiment showed that students are actually utilizing about 220 total Mb/s of data: more than double the currently budgeted amount. This tells Nelson that they will have to work with Residence Life to find more funding to increase the bandwidth. Nelson states, “At the 100 Mb/s cap, they are hitting the top, hitting the limit, and that’s when things slow to a crawl or stop. Another thing when hitting this limit, it can prevent some users from even accessing the system at all.” The issue is mitigated at the residence halls for now because they added the extra bandwidth to see what it would take to fix the issue.
Nelson further explains that the Residents Halls have their own subscription of 100 Mb/s. The system has been modified to allow students to share a portion of the faculty and staff network which allows them more bandwidth. This allows them to utilize the state bandwidth and steers any large-portion traffic like Netflix towards a new system that the Board of Regents have been moving to implement. This new system would cache Netflix data. This provides a more efficient network path for the Netflix data.
Upgraded firewalls and increased bandwidth will be in addition to an installation of upgraded wireless access points and a wireless system controller for the Residents Halls and BHSU Campus taking place during Christmas break and into the early part of the Spring semester.
There are many ways you can contact Nelson and the other staff if you have any problems with the Internet or the BHSU network while on campus. The preferred method is to send an email to [email protected] You will receive an email confirmation showing your case number and that the message was sent. You can also stop by the office located in the basement of the Library in room 007. Office hours are Mon-Fri, 8-5 p.m. You can call the office at (605) 642-6580. Leave a message with as much information about the problem and your contact information if you call after-hours. Network and Computer Services also have a Facebook page that can be found at www.facebook.com/BHSU.NCS which is used as an alternate site to place announcements of any issues BHSU may be experiencing.

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