November 15, 2007

Increase in Users Slows RedRover

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“RedRover? More like RedSLOWver!” proclaims the name of a Facebook group started to express dissatisfaction with Cornell’s wireless internet.
Problems with the RedRover wireless network emerged at the start of the semester, when many students noticed a significant decline in the performance level of the network. Library staff and CIT’s HelpDesk received complaints of slow or no connectivity and dropped connections.
Members of the Student Assembly met with administrators of CIT on Tuesday to discuss the lagging performance of the RedRover Wireless Network.
At the meeting, Dave Vernon, director of network and communication services at CIT, announced a planned upgrade to the RedRover network in order to improve overall performance.
With the campus-wide upgrade, each of the 1,000-plus access points will be replaced. Completion is of the upgrade is scheduled for late January 2008.
“We at CIT are aware that the wireless network needs to be replaced entirely. We have already ordered new third generation products from Aruba Networks, some of which have already been delivered and installed,” Vernon said.
To date, about 200 of the 1,000 access points across campus have been replaced.
Statler, Duffield, Sage, Rand and Balch Halls are among the buildings that received new third generation hardware in the past few weeks. CIT has identified other problematic, high-use buildings such as Uris and Olin Libraries that will take priority in the upgrade.
Vernon noted that initial feedback on the new equipment has been positive.
He cited several causes for RedRover’s poor performance and called it a “multivariant” problem. Maximum usage of the network, older forms of technology and radio interference have been identified as the primary contributing factors.
According to Vernon and CIT technicians, radio interference from cordless phones and microwaves can greatly diminish the accessibility of the wireless network. CIT is working with the different University departments to identify and eliminate the sources of radio interference.
“It is a mistake to say that any one factor triggered the unacceptable performance of RedRover,” Vernon said. “In most areas it has been a perfect storm of problems.”
According to Vernon, many more students are depending on wireless this year than in past years. Due to the increase in the number of RedRover subscribers, access points in locations where many students are using the wireless network at the same time, such as libraries, reach their point of saturation more quickly.
“Because RedRover is a shared medium and there is only a limited bandwidth to be shared among users, so issues of congestion arise,” Vernon said.
Oliver Habicht, director of desktop services at the library, who is the primary contact between CIT and Cornell’s library system, confirmed the increase in wireless users.
“During the last month, we have observed literally hundreds of users of the wireless service within Uris and Olin libraries during any given week,” Habicht said.
At the meeting, Vernon also announced the introduction of user-based billing for RedRover wireless network. As with ResNet, the wired Internet connection provided in residence halls, RedRover subscribers will be allowed to transfer only a certain number of gigabytes of data on the network. If users surpass this allotted amount, they will be billed based on the volume of traffic generated.
According to Vernon, about 95 percent of students fall beneath the proposed maximum usage of one megabyte.
“Right now, 5 percent of students on RedRover are using about 80 percent of the bandwidth. Because large consumption can compromise the host, with user-based billing we will be able to moderate the amount of use per person,” Vernon said.
He also said he viewed user-based billing as a way to help the Cornell community understand that the wireless network is an expensive and limited resource.
Aside from identifying and correcting the technological issues with RedRover, CIT faced issues in dealing with the students’ discontent and the increase in complaints.
Some students who felt that their concerns with RedRover were not being addressed by CIT’s Network and Communication Services department used Facebook to call attention to the issue. Josh Ogle ’08, a member of the S.A. CIT committee, formed the Facebook group “RedRover? More like RedSLOWver!” where over 300 members joined in order to express their dissatisfaction with RedRover.
At the S.A. meeting, Vernon apologized for CIT’s slow response to the issue and assured that students’ concerns with the wireless network were not being ignored. He explained that the lag in action was caused by a communication issue within CIT that has since been corrected.
Steve Matthews ’10, S.A. CIT committee chair who organized Tuesday’s meeting, was pleased with Vernon’s announcements.
“It’s great to know that CIT wasn’t ignoring our problems with RedRover. Also, knowing that they are well on their way to resolving the issue with wireless is comforting,” Matthews said.
Yesterday, the Office of Information Technology sent a campus wide e-mail that notified the Cornell community of the planned upgrade. The e-mail included an explanation of the upgrade project and offered suggestions on what individuals can do during the upgrade.