• United States

University goes gaga over Gigabit

Oct 21, 20024 mins

How Case Western University upgraded its network with approximately 16,000 Gigabit Ethernet desktop ports across campus.

CLEVELAND – Gigabit Ethernet is going to school at Case Western Reserve University – right down to each classroom seat, in some cases.

The Cleveland university recently upgraded its network with approximately 16,000 Gigabit Ethernet desktop ports across campus. Faculty and students now can hold videoconferences, access resources such as multimedia materials or conduct distance-learning programs.

“We’re taking IP to a new level as a learning tool with these huge [network] pipes,” says Dr. Lev Gonick, CTO at Case Western.

The new centerpiece of the campus is the $61.7 million Peter B. Lewis Building, the new home to the university’s Weatherhead School of Management. The building, designed by Frank Gehry, offers something for both the aesthetically minded and the technically inclined: outside, a flowing exterior of steel, glass and concrete is hard to miss; inside, 1,400 Gigabit Ethernet ports are located throughout facility’s offices and 10 classrooms, which also are equipped with the latest sound and video technologies.

Weatherhead students, outfitted with Gigabit-enabled Dell laptops from the school, can plug into their own 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet ports at each classroom seat. Students use these high-speed links to access resources such as multimedia case studies used in classes, and conducting interactive whiteboard and other high-bandwidth applications with other students over the network. The fast links also let Weatherhead conduct distance-learning courses with full-motion videoconferencing and online collaboration programs, such as Blackboard, according to Gonick.

In addition to the all-Gigabit building, the university recently rolled out Gigabit Ethernet to 14,000 desktop ports at two other colleges on the campus. While the Lewis Building project let the network be built right along with the building, Case Western’s IT staff and Sprint, the school’s equipment integrator, had a bigger challenge in upgrading the old campus network.

The school’s backbone was based on ATM gear from FORE Systems and, at one time, supported 25M bit/sec ATM to every desktop on campus.

“Back in 1988 and 1989, this was the first school to get out and really provide Internet connectivity to all faculty, students and staff,” Gonick says. “At the time, they bet on fiber and ATM. Those were the wrong bets to make.”

Until recently, to network the school’s Ethernet-based PCs, a modem-sized ATM-to-Ethernet transceiver was required, which plugged into fiber wall jacks and connected to PCs with copper.

When Gonick became CTO more than a year ago, he says his first inclination was to rewire the campus with 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet via Category 5e cabling, but he decided to tap the 5,000 miles of fiber on campus instead.

“We could have spent millions to pull out all the fiber and replace it with [Category 5e], but we decided we could get another seven years of use out of the fiber,” Gonick says.

With fiber-optic network interface cards now costing about $200, Gonick says, the school upgraded its faculty and staff with new Dell PCs fitted with 1000Base-SX cards from Netgear, giving each desktop a full 1000M bit/sec switched connection to the backbone.

Eight Cisco Catalyst 6590 switches in the core aggregate the Gigabit traffic from dozens of Catalyst 6509, 4006 and 4003 switches at the distribution layer and in wiring closets around campus. The backbone is a mixture of Gigabit Ethernet and 10G Ethernet links, all using single-mode fiber.

Gonick says the network at Case Western is just the beginning of a larger metropolitan-area network (MAN) scenario, involving several other institutions throughout Cleveland.

During the next several months, Gonick will work with the city schools and libraries and Cleveland’s network of other universities and hospitals to deploy a 10G dense wavelength division multiplexing network over a pair of dark fiber strands the city has acquired. The MAN would be connected to the Internet via the university’s OC-48 SONET pipe.

“The goal is to make Cleveland the first metro area in the country to a leverage very-high-bandwidth network infrastructure [and provide] broadband to 90% of the community by 2010,” Gonick says.