College adds more fiber for atm network

June 1, 1998

College adds more fiber for atm network

By ROBERT PEASE

Fitchburg State College (Fitchburg, MA) recently completed an Asynchron ous Transfer Mode (atm) campuswide communications network using new and existing fiber-optic infrastructure. The new network will provide connectivity to every building, classroom, student, administrator, and faculty and staff member.

"Learning and technology are now inextricably linked," says Michael P. Riccards, president of the college. "Our students and faculty must stay abreast of up-to-the-minute expertise in their fields of study."

The $2.75-million network, known as FalconNet, provides voice, video, and data communications and includes full graphical interface to the Internet, cable-ready television access, and telephone service, including a voice mail system. The network is also used to track admissions and scholastic records.

The new network, which uses an architecture designed and implemented by 3Com Corp. (Santa Clara, CA), includes the addition of more than 300 strands of multimode fiber to enhance the existing fiber-optic plant.

"We`re very pleased with this system," says Joseph Turner, Fitchburg State`s network administrator. "We were in the market for the data electronics and fiber optics at the right time and got a system that meets our needs now and in the future."

Timing is everything, says Turner, who has experienced the horrors of trying to construct a system piecemeal. In the long run, he advises, such a system will most likely end up costing much more money and can present huge installation problems.

"We`re still adjusting to our new system, but FalconNet is completely modular," he adds. "With built-in expansion capability, it will be relatively easy to adapt to new technologies." For example, if higher-speed atm is required, he says, going from the present OC-3 (155-Mbit/sec) rates to OC-12 (622 Mbits/sec) could be accomplished without completely retooling, rebuilding, or "repaying for" the system.

The FalconNet system

Fiber-optic technology is no stranger at Fitchburg State College. It has been on campus since 1985, when at&t used an Integrated Switch Network (ISN) packet-switching system to move asynchronous data across the campus.

"At that time, at&t installed multimode fiber in every administrative building and connected back to our data center with some multiplexers," says Turner. "So when we started building FalconNet, there were some strands of fiber already in place."

For FalconNet to deliver Internet access to students, 3Com connected 72 more strands of multimode fiber to some key concentration points in the residence buildings. With the use of 3Com switches and hubs, 1400 10Base-T ports were soon lit up in the residence halls. Across the campus, multimode fiber was installed to connect administrative and faculty areas with 100Base-FX and OC-3 atm.

"We established an atm core with a couple of 3Com CoreBuilder 7000 switches," says Turner. "Then we aggregated out to some OC-3 CoreBuilder 2500 switches. We also use a number of SuperStack II 3000, 1000, and desktop switches, all connected with multimode fiber in three flavors, FL, FX, or OC-3. We`re a fiber-rich college, and we depend on it to connect our 30 buildings."

FalconNet provides Fitchburg State students with a wide array of communications services at a comparatively low rate. For a fee of about $25 per month, students get unlimited Internet access, 36 cable-television stations, a first-run movie channel, unlimited local telephone access, a personal access code card for long-distance service, and voice mail--all bundled into one package.

In addition to satisfying its on-campus communications requirements, Fitchburg State needed to incorporate several outlying areas into the system. Multimode and singlemode fibers were installed to a remote campus location that also happens to be a city-run elementary school. Multimode fiber was used to link the main campus data network to every classroom and office in the elementary school, as well as some college departments collocated there. Singlemode fiber allowed the extension of the college`s cable-television network to the same location.

Finally, the system was split into several virtual local area networks to provide a measure of security while enhancing performance. By dividing the network into logical groups, such as residential halls, labs, and administration, system administrators can provide security for sensitive data while allowing students to communicate freely within their own subnetworks.

Future education applications

With projects such as Internet2 and the government`s Next Generation Internet under way (see "Abilene project connects universities through fiber optics," page 1), the days of students sitting in classrooms to earn college degrees may be numbered.

"Video, voice, and data networks are converging, and fiber is the tool that enables the key applications," says David Katz, director of global education markets, 3Com. "This particularly holds true in education, where multimedia instruction and distance-learning are being realized more than ever before."

While only 120 top research institutions are currently involved in the Internet2 program, Katz believes a number of colleges and community colleges will be "plugging into that kind of technology."

With applications that allow anyone to teach everyone from anywhere, professors can jointly teach courses from different locations, dramatically increasing the potential student base. Distance-learning also enables the sharing of specialized curricula.

"Fitchburg State College also hopes to investigate possibilities for newer technologies, such as videoconferencing," says Turner. "We hope to use videoconferencing and the Internet to enhance distance-learning programs. These possibilities exist because of our new network and increased Internet visibility." q

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