Inside the Wireless Network

 

 

Carter Cooper and Ryan Smith

All Colgate students can relate; the longest minute of one’s day is spent waiting for their password to verify so they can connect to the school’s Guest network. To the surprise of many students, there is a quick fix to connectivity issues that allows all members of the Colgate community to connect to the “third fastest internet network of the top 25 Liberal Arts schools in the United States,” according to Chief Information Technology Officer David Gregory; that solution, register your computer.

However, the general sentiment among first-years could not be in greater contrast to the realities Gregory delineated.

First-year Jackie Baughman characterized the network as “pathetic,” saying, “This is an expensive school and they can’t even provide adequate Internet. Welcome to the age of wireless: get on the bandwagon, Colgate.”

Baughman’s frustrations echo the widespread opinion of her fellow first-years. When asked to describe the reliability of internet in their dorms, first-years used terms like “horrible,” “terrible,” “sketchy at best,” “always patchy” and “an absolute waste.”

When surveyed, horror stories emerged from Curtis to Gate House. Often students were reportedly “forced to sit in the hallway with their computers because they do not get [a connection] in their rooms,” first-year Gate House resident Kelsey Hunter noted. Others described having the need to “purchase extra equipment such as LAN cables and wireless routers,” first-year Andrews resident Noah Samuels said.

Confusion with regard to which network to use, often came as a direct result of the “celebrity appearances of [the] ColgateStudents [network],” first-year Brendan Karson sarcastically explained. Respondents to the survey overwhelmingly described having to switch between ColgateStudents and ColgateGuest to hunt down a connection. Of the more than 60 freshmen surveyed about their satisfaction with the Colgate network, the average rating was a dismal 3.9 out of 10.

“A lot of the negative feedback was deserved because there were a lot of problems in the fall,” Colgate’s Chief Information Technology Officer David Gregory said.

“Over the summer, we put in a new wireless configuration from Cisco that essentially created the ColgateStudents, ColgateEmployees and ColgateGuest networks,” Gregory said. “When we launched it, everything worked great until we had thousands of people using [the network]. In the fall, people were getting dropped off and having trouble connecting; this all peaked around November.”

Due to constant activity on the network, which peaks between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. daily, major adjustments were simply not possible until Winter Break. After contacting Cisco and upgrading firmware across campus, Gregory expressed his belief that these problems have, for the most part, been ameliorated.

“We have cleared up most of the connection issues we were having,” Gregory said.

One of the ongoing issues, however, is the poor communication between students and Information Technology (IT).

“The best way to get the Internet working for students is to have a good line of communication; that is what I struggle with most,” Gregory said.

In fact, of those surveyed, only 32 percent of students experiencing problems actually complained directly to IT. Others complained to resident advisors and fellow students, to no avail. Moreover, Colgate’s complex network does not work the same way as the wireless networks students have used at places like homes, coffee shops or hotels.

“If we are paying $50,000 a year, I would think that wireless Internet would be a given,” first-year Patrick Connolly said. “After all, you can get wireless Internet easily in a $50-a-night hotel room…it’s ridiculous.”

A common misperception among the student body is that one can just connect to the network.

“This is not like a hotel, you cannot just go and connect up to the wireless; that is not the way it works,” Gregory said, explaining that there are essentially two networks in operation: the default network and Colgate’s secured network. Unless a student has specifically gone to IT to have their computer registered, no matter which network they connect to (ColgateStudents or ColgateGuest), their computer is put into the default network.

According to Gregory, the default network is “three times slower and a free-for-all with regard to spamming and viruses.” Colgate’s secure network is only available to students who have registered their computers with IT, and thereby proved to have the most updated operating system and some form of virus protection software. In reality, the vast majority of students are simply not aware of the need to register their computers with the network. Therefore, many of the unsatisfactory responses of surveyed students are justifiable because they are connecting to the default network, not the secure Colgate network.

“We have a secure network here because all personal information is our job to protect; we get on average anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000, mostly automated attacks, daily, and we do not trust your computer if it is not registered,” Gregory said.

Poor communication has led to a prevailing ignorance among students of the necessity of registering their computer. This ignorance, in turn, contributes to students’ reported negative view of the Colgate network.

Nonetheless, Colgate’s secure network is not only more than double the bandwidth of that of Hamilton College, but is also ranked third by the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLAC). CLAC is comprised of the top Liberal Arts Colleges nationwide.

In spite of Colgate’s high-quality network, several factors such as heavy user traffic and the existence of rogue wireless networks can slow down the connection considerably.

According to Gregory, “When you fire up another wireless network on your own it interferes with the Colgate network and slows down access for everyone.”

On February 10, Gregory assessed the secure Colgate network in Curtis Hall and found at least four rogue networks running. Rogue networks are banned because of the interference they cause.

The simple solution to all of the hill’s connectivity problems is to have every student computer registered on the network. Students can have their computers registered in their dorms by their respective RCC or with an IT representative at the third floor IT help desk at the Case-Geyer Library.

When one of these reporters went to do just that, the IT representative turned to her superior and asked: “Do we do that?” to which her superior replied “Of course we do.” Thinking out loud she said, “Just wondering, because I have never had anyone ask me that before.”

After the reporter’s request was logged, he was set up with an IT representative who registered his Mac in a matter of minutes. Of the four IT representatives working at the IT desk only one was registered, the others citing concerns about IT “knowing what I am doing online.” Gregory assured students, however, that, in terms of “logging student activity,” IT is “not interested nor do we have the time.”

Despite the lack of communication between students and IT, Gregory expressed his belief that, “it is a question of education and getting the feedback directly to us [at extension 7111]; if you tell us what your problem is, we will fix it.”