October 2, 2006

C.U. Updates Wiring With EzraNet Program

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Launched in March 2003, EzraNet is a $57 million dollar program created to upgrade data and phone wiring and their distribution infrastructure in about 60 buildings around campus.

What this means

For a network to have a fast and efficient connection speed to the network requires cabling (the data or voice wiring) that allows for faster transfer of data. Cables have been standardized into categories with increasing speeds of data transfer. Currently, there are seven categories of cable, but Category 7 is not yet on the market. Much of Cornell’s data and voice wiring infrastructure consists of Category 3 or earlier cable systems. This means that over 75% of the connections on campus do not even support 100 megabits per second.

Why this matters

Network-intensive applications such as video conferencing, virtual reality and data modeling require higher speeds of data transmission than Category 3 infrastructure can support. Therefore, buildings with Category 3 cabling can only provide basic services such as e-mail and web browsing.

EzraNet will upgrade the cable to Category 6, bringing access to the network at gigabit speed. Applications like video conferencing will then become possible.

Sasja Huijts, director of EzraNet, said, “The whole intent of the EzraNet program is to provide everyone on campus with gigabit speed so they have fast connection to support their research needs. We would like to peer with other institutes on that same level.”

In order for any given individual to take advantage of the faster network speeds that will be in place however, their computer will need to have a fast enough network interface card to support the new gigabit speeds.

According to Michelle Reynolds, one of the project managers, “In the buildings, we also try to have better RedRover coverage for the student population. We put in the pathways for wireless and then departmentally, they decide to install RedRover in the building.” Reynolds cited Willard Straight Hall as one of the future locations of better RedRover coverage.

EzraNet also includes the design and construction of a modern network infrastructure to support a new cable system, the design and upgrading of telecommunications rooms, the implementation of new cabling and therefore, a new network and the installation of pathways and jacks for wireless access.

The infrastructure includes the pathways and conduits for the cables from the jacks in the wall, to which computers connect, to newly designed telecommunications rooms, which house the network. The new infrastructure will make future upgrades (to say, Category 7 cabling when it is released on the market) easier and less costly because the pathways will already be in place.

“We’re putting pathways into all the buildings so we can easily pull the wiring out and put in new wiring. EzraNet is really an infrastructure project,” Reynolds said.

Huijts also added that the future upgrades will be cheaper since the infrastructure is already in place: “Once a customer in the building calls and says he wants another jack added here or wants to extend his services, we can very easily add new services to it because the base infrastructure is here.”

Additionally, the actual work for field technicians will also be made easier and more efficient due to the new infrastructure.

New telecommunications rooms are being installed to accommodate the new infrastructure and to replace the current telecommunications rooms, which were deemed inadequate in terms of security and environmental controls.

A major need for the program results from the fact that research dollars for universities across the nation require having the correct data speeds for downloads and communication. In 2001-02, Cornell launched a pilot-rewiring project called “Telecommunication Infrastructure Enhancement – Pilot Project.” The program included the upgrading of five buildings on campus to Category 5e cabling.

Within the program, site surveys revealed numerous problems with the telecommunication infrastructure in each building, including insufficient cabling, little space for telecommunications rooms, lack of security and inadequate HVAC systems. TIE also helped staff understand the required costs and processes for upgrading and gave them valuable experience they would later use in the EzraNet project.

In March 2003, EzraNet was presented to and approved by the Board of Trustees. The first buildings were completed by December 2004.

Cornell Information Technologies’ Network and Communications Services group is in charge of project management for each building included in EzraNet. Each building is assigned a project manager, project coordinators and a project team responsible for all planning and logistics of the project.

Each project is then broken up into six phases. The first, initiation, includes contacting the next building in scope and clarifying the process and purpose of the program. Next comes the design phase, during which the project hires an outside design firm to design the infrastructure. In the construction phase, the physical infrastructure is installed. Work is usually completed between midnight and 8 a.m. so as to minimize disruption.

Next is the cutover phase, in which the connection is cutover to the new infrastructure. CIT-NCS warns that there will be a minimal downtime during the cutover from the old service to the new. It will be scheduled and announced in advance so as to minimize inconveniences. Downtime is projected to be under 15 minutes for phone service and under 5 minutes for data service.

The last two phases, demolition and closeout, include the removal of the old infrastructure and a group surveillance and evaluation of the completion of the project and its goals.

The program is funded by Office of the Provost. The provost also determines which buildings will be upgraded. Factors that come under consideration include strategic location, usage of network and number of desk jacks per area while planning construction or renovation.

Out of the 60 buildings to be upgraded, four have already completed: Biotechnology Building, Comstock Hall, Olin Hall and Upson/Grumman Hall. Currently under construction are Bard/Kimball/Thurston, Clark Hall, Rhodes Hall, Vet Medical Center, Vet Research Tower and Willard Straight Hall.
Huijts provided 2018 as the tentative year of completion.