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ITS upgrades mean smoother surfing

by Joe King

NIUNet, the high-speed, fiber-optic communication network that eventually will link the DeKalb campus and all university outreach centers, is already making Web surfing a much smoother and faster experience for most NIU students, faculty and staff.

Using the portion of the network that links the university to a high-speed Internet2 hub in Chicago, Information Technology Services struck a deal with the Michigan Education and Research network to provide a high-speed link into an Internet service provider carrier hotel called Equinix.

That connection allowed NIU to contract with Cogent Communications for Internet services, which dramatically increased the amount of bandwidth available while drastically reducing costs. The new service went online in mid-December.

The deal increases the amount of commodity Internet (versus Internet2) bandwidth available to campus computer users, from a modest 80 megabits to a whopping 300 megabits. At the same time, the cost per megabit decreased by 90 percent.

The change has been apparent to NIU computer users in the form of faster downloads and a decrease in the amount of time it takes for Web pages to load on computers.

NIU Chief Network Architect Herb Kuryliw said the network previously had to accommodate twice the capacity of demand during times of peak use. That called for 50 percent more than was available, and created delays as the software facilitated enforced sharing.

Now, that same level of demand does not use even half of the available bandwidth, meaning information flows quickly and with few impediments.

Im thrilled with the way it has improved the speed and reliability of the network, says NIU Staff Meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste. I have to download some very large files operating system patches, long-range weather data that can be a half a gigabyte or more in size. What used to take 10 or 15 minutes now downloads in seconds.

The increased capacity not only means that NIU computers accessing the Web can download information more quickly.

It also means that those visiting NIU Web pages receive their information much faster, dramatically improving the experience for those who view features such as the online campus tour.

Similarly, those accessing online classes offered by NIU Outreach or other e-learning services offered by the university enjoy a much smoother and glitch-free experience, Kuryliw said.

If, or more likely when, the 300-megabit connection becomes congested, the university has the option to increase capacity in 100 megabit increments up to a full gigabyte.

2-12-07