Now more than ever, a strong internet connection is a necessity for New College. Students and professors alike need to be able to connect to internet conference calls, as a solid Zoom connection is now almost as crucial to a student’s education as the professor. In this pandemic, a failure to meet the technical challenges presented by online classes is a failure to achieve the central goal of New College: to provide its students with a quality education. In addition, the recreational internet use that the several hundred people living on campus rely on when many avenues of traditional distraction are unable to be enjoyed safely. To keep up with the increasing demands on the network, the Office of Information Technology (IT) has planned a number of improvements to the college’s network to facilitate the increasingly internet-dependent world, but as of right now some students are struggling to stay connected.
“A few years ago, IT pushed for fortifying the campus backbone and internet access—without any pandemics coming down the road—but just knowing that bandwidth is that resource that is necessary, especially on a residential campus,” Benjamin Foss, director of network services, said. “We’ve invested heavily into communication technology such as Zoom to get the integration with Canvas.”
Beyond the challenge of connecting to lectures, students faced the challenge of how they could access the software they need for their courses. Apps such as Photoshop or ArcGIS can cost hundreds of dollars a year, prohibitively expensive for many students to purchase on their own. Those applications were available on-campus at computer labs, but as many students left campus, the Virtual Desktop, the system that allows students to access a NCF computer from their own, became critical. When first instituted, the Virtual Desktop was only licensed for 20 users at a time, but it has expanded since to accommodate more students.
“We invested in licensing our Virtual Desktop infrastructure, which is basically a remote campus lab,” Foss said. “Students can access software remotely without having to be in the lab itself [and] we increased their license capacity for that.”
The on-campus wireless internet network has been in the process of expansion for some time. As part of NCF’s growth plan, the IT department started preparing the network to be able to accommodate 1200 students. Additionally, IT has begun to upgrade many of the dorms’ wifi networks.
“Many of the dorms on campus have a one [gigabit] connectivity, and that’s the entire building,” Foss said. “So, if you have one hundred devices, they are all sharing a one gig connection to the next hop, which obviously has more and more speed as you go upstream on network areas. In some academic areas, we have upgraded to a ten gig connection.”
“One gig connectivity” generally allows for fast internet speeds, however, it usually only supports around 100 users at one time. Since this applies to the whole building, the internet connection is simply being overworked with so many students logging onto Zoom calls throughout the day.
“I’ve gone to class on my laptop a total of maybe three times since the semester started,” Catalyst Copy Editor and thesis student Claire Newberg said. “The internet connection is just so unstable where I am that I’ve had to use my phone.”
On Feb. 10, IT began to upgrade the connection in Dort and Gold. IT has further plans to improve the network infrastructure, though many of them need to be done over the summer due to the network disruption they would bring with them. IT seeks to upgrade the campus’s 40 gig connection to a 160 gig connection, as well as upgrading the older ethernet ports.
“Please keep us informed if you are having any challenges,” Foss said. “They’re usually unique to one individual and not a problem with the whole system. So don’t assume that if you’re having a problem we’ll be aware of it; let us know. We encourage feedback and always reach out.”