CIS attempts to keep abreast with student Wi-Fi needs

It’s 2014—the internet is ubiquitous, and this is especially noticeable on college campuses. At Vassar, students rely on internet for everything from e-mailing their professors at the last minute to streaming the latest episode of New Girl.

Students might not have noticed yet, but over winter break, Computer and Information Services (CIS) finished the installation of new internet access points in apartments and residence halls.

With an increasing number of devices accessing Wi-Fi on campus, Vassar has made clear strides toward keeping up with the ever-increasing demand for greater wireless speed and capability.

With wireless connection capabilities all over campus, students can work at a greater variety of places, including outdoors or in some of the more far-reaching parts of campus.

Because of these changes to internet connectivity, students are no longer are forced to be tethered to an ethernet jack to conduct research or access any of the other resources they need.

A long way from the days of Vassar’s beginnings, the Internet has shaped and changed the way students work and stay entertained under the stress of college life.

Internet first became available to Vassar students beginning in 1995 and was predictably slow. As part of the New York State Education and Research Network (NYSERNET), Vassar had access to supercomputer centers and other campuses’ computers.

By 1994, students were bringing their own personal computers and Vassar had begun creating its own presence on the Internet, establishing its own homepage. Hoping to spread information between the college community as well as to outsiders, academic departments began creating their own pages and servers (“Vassar gets Webbed,” 11.18.94).

By 2004, wireless internet became limitedly available in the library and then expanded the same year through the Class of 2004’s senior gift to extend the wireless throughout the building.

While wireless internet now has a reputation for being reasonably secure, at the time, this was a source of some controversy, as some of the class believed that choosing this technology was risky.

“Wireless internet will be a big help to students in the short term, but in 30 years is it really that plausible that it will still be the popular way to use the internet?” wrote The Miscellany News editorial staff (“Class gift disappoints, lacks support,” 4.23.04).

Although some had reservations, Vassar continued to expand their wireless service. In 2006, work began to expand wireless to the entire campus.

Today, members of the Vassar community have access to high-speed internet on a secure connection based on their role in the community.

Director of Networks and Systems Networks and Systems Emily Harris wrote in an e-mailed statement, “Having two connections (technically referred to as SSIDs), one for students and one for employees, allows CIS to better secure the systems these networks access and optimize the overall network capacity.”

Additional SSIDs are available for guests and other large groups when needed, giving everyone on campus safe access to the information they seek, which is much different from when internet first arrived on campus.

However, although the possibilities that the internet provides have increased, students continue to seek better access. Demand for higher speeds and more campus coverage has increased as students bring more wireless devices to campus.

Students today not only have laptops, but phones, iPods, tablets and a wide variety of other forms of wireless technology, and with this technology comes more demand for high speed and easily accessed wireless. One way that CIS has addressed the demand for internet is by directing more bandwidth to academic and administrative purposes during the day and then to the dorms during the night.

Wrote Harris, “Connection speeds to the Internet vary based on location, constituent and type of data stream.  CIS uses specialized hardware to manage these algorithms, mostly based on originating IP address.”

She noted that after typical school hours, students have access to 99% of the available bandwidth. Speeds themselves have improved drastically with a six time increase from 2009’s 100 Mb/s to today’s 600Mb/s. CIS reevaluates the network usage at least once a year and tries to increase the bandwidth when they see the need and have the budget.

Besides increasing bandwidth to improve student accessibility, CIS is working to replace wireless access points with more efficient ones.

Harris noted that, “In addition, we have put resources towards enhancing the wireless network to accommodate the growing number of wireless devices on campus. To that end, CIS began upgrading wireless technologies in 2010, focusing on high-usage areas such as ACDC, College Center and the Library.”

These new access points will allow for more individual devices to connect to the SSIDs and will create higher connection speeds per device. The department hopes to next replace access points in academic buildings this summer.

While these new additions should increase speed, many students may still find this inadequate. From the library basement to certain areas far from the center of campus, students have occasionally found limited or no connection.

As for where he has found the most difficulty connecting to connect to the internet, John Whelan ’17 noted that one place that causes trouble for him is Skinner Hall.

For Drury McAlarney ’16, on the other hand, the dorms have been the biggest problem, especially certain places in Lathrop. Although they both noticed these cold spots, they said that they believe the technology at Vassar is up to date.

Said McAlarney, “To be honest, I really don’t have problems with the internet at school. Or, at least, I have much worse internet back at home.”

Wireless connectivity in the residence halls can sometimes be challenging due to the large number of wireless devices that are in use by students.

By its very nature, wireless is prone to interference. On the student end, CIS suggested that reducing electromagnetic interference as much as possible may increase connection quality. This means disconnecting any Wi-Fi game consoles, controllers or printers. While disconnecting might be difficult for some students, removing interference is one of the prime ways that CIS suggests for improving connectivity and speed.

With the many wireless devices students possess, interference can add up easily and limit connectivity. Other potential fixes for connection problems are to make sure the internet client is set up properly..

“If students still have trouble connecting, we encourage them to visit or call the CIS Help Desk for additional assistance,” wrote Harris.

Wrote Harris, “Chief Information Officer Michael Cato has an ongoing dialogue with Vice President for Operations Alison Ehrlich ’15 and the VSA to identify other opportunities to enhance the Vassar experience for our students through technology.”

Some of the ways CIS hopes to improve wireless access in the near future include installing new wireless access points student living areas, with academic buildings to follow.

“Over the winter break, we completed the replacement of all wireless access points in the residence halls and apartments with new devices capable of handling more individual devices and higher speed connections per device.  We are looking to begin replacements in the academic buildings during the summer of 2014,” wrote Harris.

As time passes and new information is available, the college will inevitably need to improve its technology, and it is only with time that this will become clear.

 

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