Network Refresh Update | March 2017

A collection of positive steps were made over the festive period and into the new year to progress the release of the University’s new network. We hope this update gives you all a feel for the enormity of work that has gone into getting this far as we push to achieve full coverage across all three campuses in the coming year.

In plain sight

Have a read about the things you might have seen over the past few months.

Superfast wifi activations

Following on from the last update, another four buildings have been moved onto the new, speedy wifi network including:

  • Dalhousie
  • DUSA (including The Enquiry Centre and shop)
  • Tower
  • Old Technical Institute

Be sure to connect to eduroam in these areas for a fast-tracked online session!

Pictured here is one of the IT Transition Specialists conducting a testing exercise that follows each migration. Michael is checking how quick files can be downloaded/uploaded throughout DUSA to ensure things are working as they should be and that what is being delivered matches plans. Trials took place in 14 separate areas, showing an impressive reading of 📥 190 megabits per second (mbps). A consistent, fast connection like this allows Skype or Facetime calls to remain seamless as you wander through the building – something that will be true of the whole campus in the near future.

Hardware installations

Contractors continue to work their way around University buildings to install inactive cabling and Access Points (APs), which are devices that send out a signal for you to connect to wifi. The University has gone all out to ensure there are enough APs to create a seamless connection when a wireless user roams. It was suggested 3025 internal and if possible, 75 external APs be installed, which means there will be 3 times the number that were available before the project started, providing blanket coverage to enhance the mobile experience.

Installation numbers have significantly increased since the last update and we are currently sitting at 1400+ fixed APs, so the project is well on the way.

The old wifi was patchy and connection would drop when walking from one location to another. A wireless connection would also become weakened when transmitting a signal through walls. This is the reason so many APs are being installed and each one will be fixed in a location to cover any areas that previously didn’t get signal, and to strengthen that signal in individual, large rooms (such as lecture theaters).

Did you know? Engineers walked the equivalent distance of Dundee to Edinburgh to survey the best spots to install the thousands of APs to achieve that blanket coverage state.

What’s next? Buildings cannot be migrated onto the new network without having had this hardware installed, so it is critical the installation stage continue to progress. The AP installers are now providing extra resource to undertake this work as quickly as possible.

Customer Engagement

Towards the end of last year, Circle IT and UoD IT held an engagement session in the Main Library to raise awareness of the project and its benefits within the University’s student population.

Over 500 freebie packs were given away and one lucky student took home the win, an Amazon Fire HD tablet, which she now connects to the new network!

Feedback received on the day was overwhelmingly positive and many were pleased at the speed increase in the Main Library – not surprising given performance is now 4 times faster.

It was great to hear the project benefits were making a difference in this busy City Campus location, particularly since a big push was made to deliver them in time for the exam/revision diet when the demand placed on the network is always high.

Behind the scenes

Have a read about the things you don’t see that have been happening in the background.

Ninewells campus progress

Ninewells_banner
The University’s network set-up in Ninewells has always been slightly different because it has to co-exist alongside the NHS network and be confined to areas designated to learning and teaching (not wards). With added complexity comes added time, so delivering an enhanced network provision at this campus was always going to take slightly longer.

A mutli-disciplinary team effort

When the project started, a working group made up of both University and NHS representatives was assembled to discuss how to transition these areas to the new infrastructure in the best way possible. A review of the reciprocal wifi provision was agreed through close discussions, which resulted in a full wireless survey throughout the month of December 2016 that aimed to determine the optimal placement of new hardware for the provision of top quality wifi coverage in the future. Following this, the team re-grouped to discuss moving forward with a preferred vendor to undertake the installation work, a contract for which was successfully awarded in February 2017. This means the new network delivery at the Ninewells campus has kicked up a gear!

What’s next? AP and cabling inputs will commence at Ninewells shortly, putting it on the same activity track as those that have already taken place at the City and Kirkcaldy campuses, albeit slightly behind in the timeline.

All things firewall

The University’s data centres contain some pretty important technology. They act as the beating heart to the wider network itself, which circulates your data traffic (information) and online actions to ultimately allow you to do what you need to for work and study purposes. The entire infrastructure facilitates all University core activities. The way we protect and secure this information flow is by using Firewalls.

First things first

Delivering new firewall technology forms part of the Network Refresh project, which will see a series of SonicWALL ‘SuperMassive’ firewalls installed to ensure a consistent security design. The perimeter firewalls were the first on the list. This protection is provided by a pair of front-line defense mechanisms that sit on the edge of the network preventing malicious intrusions and ensuring you, as a legitimate student or staff user, get routed through the right way to gain access to what you need.

We made it!

Wednesday 01 February 2017 marked a massive step forward when these state-of-the-art perimeter firewalls were successfully installed without issue or disruption. After much testing, live traffic was finally allowed to run through them from areas that had been migrated to the new network as of early March.

Perimeter firewallThis means if you’re using the new wifi or wired network…

You’ll experience faster throughput and your online activity will route down a more secure and stable path. Without reaching this milestone, the benefits of the project could not be fully realised because the old firewalls would continue to act as a speed bottleneck.

What’s next? Attention has now turned to getting the data centre firewalls in place. Work to re-define the rule sets of the University’s full compliment of firewalls will continue and is dependent on information collection activities being undertaken by the project team.

Goodbye data centre

The Network Refresh project has a key goal of transforming how we deliver network services to the University and underpinning that, we need fit-for-purpose environments to support our Core Network Infrastructure.

Why it’s time for change

Each data centre costs a considerable amount to run on a yearly basis, especially when you factor in the facilities they require like continuous air-conditioning, an uninterruptible power supply, standby generators and fire suppression equipment. Support systems like these are quite inefficient when running at low load, so savings can be made by running a data centre as close to full load as possible. A number of our existing data centre environments are running well below their capacity, so we have decided to consolidate and set the wheels in motion.

The specifics

Core Equipment Room 1 (CER1) is a legacy environment, built in the computer mainframe era of the 1970-80s and as such, it would require substantial investment to re-modernise this environment so it meets current minimum standards. The project team agreed a consolidated (virtual) data centre network could be achieved within our already more modern data centres (CER2, JBC, JWCC and Discovery Centre), removing the need for facility upgrade funds to furnish legacy rooms. This also allowed the Network Refresh project expenditure to focus on the key data centre network switches and firewalls, which will provide that transformational network service capability.

Lots of equipment has been re-homed already and now sits within more modern, pre-existing University data centres. The opportunity was also taken to retire older equipment from CER1, such as:

  • Sky, which served as the University’s main web server for several years, and
  • Dux, the latest server to be powered-off after many years faithful service

…nostalgic moments for some across campus, we’re sure!

Activities like the recent decommission of Connect2Campus, an access service introduced to the School of Medicine in 2009, are also key to the progressive removal of this data centre.

Special thanks go out to the IT Data Centre Officers, who have invested a lot of time and effort to get to where we are with this initiative. They will continue with this work until CER1 is empty.

Next steps on the roadmap

Learn more about activities that are on their way as we pick up speed on new network delivery.

The schedule

A full schedule will be released later this month with planned dates for the continued:

  • Installation of new hardware (APs and cabling)
  • Migration of locations onto the new wired and wireless network

We’ll let you know when this is ready and has been published on the project blog.

Less old, more new

As migrations progress you’ll notice less appearances of UoD_WiFi and an increased requirement to connect to eduroam. This is positive because the more cut-overs we achieve, the less re-authentication instances everybody will experience as they roam across sites until full coverage is delivered.

Enhanced network security

Information gathering exercises are well underway and will continue so as to bring forward that new way of ensuring access to data across the University’s network. Coupled with the soon to be installed data centre firewalls that will protect the network at its core, we will be well on our way to a security design worth shouting about even louder.

New VPN

The University’s current tool is showing signs of instability – it’s almost as if it knows about its impending retirement… This has prompted the team to move the delivery of the new tool higher up the priority list to preserve the experience of the many remote workers that rely on it.

We would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all involved in this project, and a big thank you to all staff and students for their continued co-operation in helping us deliver a network fit for the best University in Scotland.

– Network Refresh Project Team

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