Montana State University

Upgrades give MSU faster, more mobile-friendly computer network

March 5, 2014 -- By Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

An ongoing series of infrastructure improvements and upgrades has Montana State University’s computer network poised to be one of the largest and most dynamic in the state of Montana. The need for increased bandwidth and an upgraded wireless system comes partly from the proliferation of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, which are ubiquitous in every aspect of campus life, including as educational tools in many classrooms. MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham.    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – While the Montana State University campus continues to see record numbers of students, behind-the-scenes upgrades to MSU’s computer network has the university’s information technology system ready to meet future growth.

From improved core capacity to a newly unified log-in system to improved and expanded wireless networks across campus, the series of improvements launched by MSU’s Information Technology Center addresses the demands of record enrollment, data-intensive research and the rapid proliferation of personal wireless devices, as well as Internet traffic to websites rich in multimedia and complex graphics.

At the heart of the ongoing series of improvements to the computer systems is a new network core that has a capacity of 100 gigabits per second, the engine driving future network expansion. The new infrastructure will support one of the largest and highest-performing computer networks in the state, according to Adam Edelman, MSU’s interim chief information officer. 

“The growth in demand for bandwidth alone meant the old network core would often come close to maximum capacity,” Edelman said. “An upgraded network core is one of those things that happens without a lot of fanfare, and people might not even notice a change. Nonetheless, we’re pleased that we can offer significantly higher performance, as well as improved stability in ensuring constant, high quality network performance for both our students, faculty and staff, as well as the research community on campus.”

The system core handles all internal and external network communications, meaning it carries and routes every bit of data transmitted back and forth on the Internet, through campus email and within the academic and administrative information systems (Banner and My Info), as well as all traffic from a completely separate network (Internet 2), dedicated solely to research activity.

Coming and going from the 8,660 active wired network ports ITC maintains on campus, peak traffic averages around 2 gigabits per second from the general campus activity and another 1.5 gigabits from the so-called Internet 2 network reserved for research. To put MSU’s newly upgraded capability of 100 gigabits per second into perspective, Rod Laakso, director of infrastructure and operations at ITC, said the typical home might have a total bandwidth capability of 15 megabits per second (1 gigabit per second equals 1,024 megabits per second). MSU’s old system had a capacity of 10 gigabits per second.

That extra bandwidth, as well as a back-up hard connection to the Internet at large, means MSU is well ahead of the curve with respect to network access and performance, Edelman said. Given the network’s complexity – it is literally interconnected with all reaches of campus – the upgraded network core that went live earlier this winter was months in the making.

“It’s a very complex process and that we’ve been working through step by step, but we are pleased that the upgrades we’ve made to our system have positioned Montana State University as one of the highest performing computer networks in the state of Montana,” Laakso said.

In addition to a new high-performance network core that is capable of absorbing future demand, ITC is continuing with improvements in other areas:

  • ITC is implementing a change to the campus login system to allow different directories to recognize users with one login ID and password, a simplification that Laakso said is a start in addressing a common source of frustration for network users. The Banner and My Info systems are scheduled to be added later.
  • ITC will be replacing an aging in-house email system. The new system will be web-based – hosted off site in the cloud – which will eliminate the need for hosting multiple email systems on campus, although it will still provide administrative control for MSU system administrators. The upgrade will also provide standardization of campus email, calendar and collaboration tools and much-improved spam filtering.
  • To meet the increasing demand of the more users with more mobile devices, the campus wireless system is undergoing a major overhaul. Since the process of updating the system began in the fall of 2012, ITC has installed approximately 1,000 wireless access points across campus. Each access point can provide service to approximately 50 to 60 user connections. The current focus of wireless expansion is to increase coverage in areas of high student use, such as classrooms, labs, residence halls, and family and graduate housing. An investment from the Provost’s Office is supporting the wireless network upgrade in all major classroom and instructional spaces on campus.
  • A new system for business reporting on campus called Enterprise Decision Support will be replacing a system Edelman said had failed to meet a number of key objectives for unifying reporting systems over the four MSU campuses. The new tool ITC is implementing, Argos, will provide a standard approach to business reporting for administrative functions such as human resources, finance and accounting.
  • In support of MSU’s research enterprise, the campus is now a member of “InCommon,” which enables to researchers to securely access collaboration tools and an array of cloud services and applications that have been vetted by other participating campuses for quality, performance and acceptance. The campus will also offer “Eduroam,” a free and secure wireless network available at participating educational institutions around the world. The network will provide traveling MSU faculty, staff and students secure access to the Internet from any participating Eduroam institution, using their personal MSU wireless login credentials to access the local wireless network. Visitors to MSU from other Eduroam institutions will be able to access the university’s network and the Internet via their “home” credentials.

For more information on ITC improvements to campus wireless, visit http://www.montana.edu/wifi/buildout.php. Further information and ITC resources are available on the ITC homepage: http://www.montana.edu/itcenter/.

Contact: Rodney Laakso, (406) 994-6383, rodlaakso@montana.edu.