Leveraging a new source of sustainable funding, Information Technology Services is upgrading the core network that carries voice and data across the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
This network refurbishment entails replacing outdated switches, improving in-building wiring and ensuring a more robust, reliable data network for the Carolina community. The lifecycle refresh of network hardware, as it is commonly called, is a top project priority this year and for the next several years for Jim Gogan, ITS Interim Director of Communication Technologies.
“The perpetual cycle of network hardware upgrades for the entire campus helps ensure that we can meet the high-bandwidth requirements for research applications, the low-latency requirements of real-time services such as Voice-over-Internet Protocol and teleconferencing, and the power-over-Ethernet requirements for pervasive Wi-Fi deployments,” Gogan said.
This upgrade is a continual process
Each year ITS starts with updating the Tier 1 distribution switches that need to be enhanced to support the upgrades of the “downstream” buildings for that fiscal year. The campus has a total of 23 Tier 1 switches. Multiple buildings connect to each Tier 1 switch. Without appropriately sized Tier 1 distribution switches, upgrading the building entrance switches would create bandwidth bottlenecks. Work on individual buildings follows – building entrance switches, the individual switches on each floor, and the network switch hardware to which all those little wall jacks connect.
“This is really the first year that we’ve identified specific buildings,” Gogan said. “We estimate that it will take us about 10 years to totally refresh the campus network and then start over again.”
New funding model better reflects usage
In 2013, the University created a new funding model for this networking upgrade. It is “essentially a payroll tax,” Gogan said. “I love this model.”
“The whole idea of a payroll tax means that everybody’s got to pay something,” he said. “A lot of universities that do any sort of funding for the network do it based on the full-time equivalents (FTEs) of the departments. That means housekeeping is paying as much as cancer research if they have the same number of people. But they don’t use the network the same way.”
“But if you do it based on the salaries,” he said, “you can be sure that cancer researchers are paid a lot more than housekeepers. So if you’re paying a flat rate of the payroll of that department, it’s a wonderful proxy for network use.”
Campus getting pervasive Wi-Fi too
Starting this year, ITS also has funding to add pervasive Wi-Fi coverage as it upgrades the Ethernet switches in buildings. “That’s not a refresh, that’s filling it out,” Gogan said. Every campus building has some Wi-Fi, but only as much as each respective department could afford.
Now the University has $7 million with which to provide that pervasive wireless coverage. Gogan expects the work to take 42 months. With that funding, Gogan said, ITS can now ensure that no matter where you go in a building, you will have coverage.