College to upgrade computer network
Early next year, the College will begin a $2.85 million, three-year upgrade of its computer network, which will allow data to be transferred between computers as much as 10 times faster.
Funding for the project was approved last winter as part of the College's regular budget, but Deputy Provost Bruce Pipes said the project is still in the planning stages.
The upgrade calls for the College to replace the AppleTalk wiring with a data-transmission protocol called Ethernet, a system of wiring that allows for faster and more direct communication between computers. Pipes said the College is going to work on the entire campus almost at once.
The plan will be the first major upgrade of Dartmouth's network since it was installed more than a decade ago.
The upgrade should create a wiring infrastructure that will last at least another 10 years, Computing Services Director Larry Levine said.
Buildings will be prioritized by their current network and their needs. For example, Gilman, a building with a relatively slow network and rapidly growing network needs, is high on the priority list.
"We've never done something this big before," Pipes said. He also said one of the problems is the varying standard of wiring in College buildings, which makes the upgrading more complex.
The upgrade plans currently include improvements to the electrical wiring, made more complex by the variety of architecture on campus. Administrators said the new wiring scheme will make future upgrades easier to perform.
Both Levine and Pipes stressed that the College has been continually upgrading portions of the network in the past.
"We're never not doing an upgrade," Levine said. "It's just that the activity level has finally reached the point where it's visible to everyone."
Dartmouth is upgrading its network as the power of computers on campus and the complexity of what people are doing has grown, slowing the network down.
"We've gotten by on the current network by being clever," Pipes said. "We've been constantly adapting the old network and upgrading the newer buildings."
The three-year upgrade can be divided into four stages. In the first stage, about 70 buildings whose electrical wiring is not up to specifications will be rewired.
In the plan's second stage, the College will place new sockets in the walls so telephone, AppleTalk and Ethernet connections will all be located on the same wall plate.
The College will then replace the network's backbone -- the main line that runs through campus -- with a fiber-optic cable that allows information transfer at the speed of light.
Finally, the College will install new computers to run the network.
One of the main issues of concern to students is which buildings will be done first. Levine said that a final schedule has yet to be drawn up, although the priorities have been set.
Another factor is which buildings are close together. Levine said the plan is to "park a trailer near a clump of buildings, do that clump, and move on." Therefore, residence halls are likely to be looked at by cluster, not by individual building.
Pipes said the administration is already looking ahead to projects after the upgrade.
"Once we get to a standard, we're not going to stop there. We're going to look to the future, to new technologies," Pipes said.
Levine said possible new technologies include even faster forms of networks and the integration of the voice and data networks into one.
The College hired computer-consulting firm Fleischer, Migliaccio and Steinberg to aid in the planning. The firm's role will be to examine the current network and to help specify the new wiring to be used.