Iowa State Networks to Receive Upgrades

Information Technology Services (ITS) has begun work to replace aging network switches in nearly 200 buildings across campus, which will bring faster Ethernet connections to users without increasing current costs of internet access.

The upgrade process for Iowa State’s network switches — which distribute internet connections via Ethernet cables to offices, wireless access points, and university phones— began at the start of 2019. Approximately 800 of the current switches, which have been in use since 2010, will be replaced over the course of three years with new switches capable of providing campus users higher internet connection speeds.

“We need modern switches to provide the level of internet service that is expected by users, as well as to offer higher internet speeds,” said ITS Network Engineering Manager Mike Broders. “Between the end of our current switches’ lifecycles approaching and the prospect of being able to provide new levels of service, we decided this was an opportune time to undertake this effort.”

With the existing network switches, users who pay $10 a month are given access to speeds of 10 megabit, 100 megabit, or one gigabit of data per second per office. Once the new switches are installed, for the same price users will have access to 100 megabit, one gigabit, and 2.5 gigabit per second speeds. One hundred-megabit speeds are considered suitable for most homes. 

“When calculating service rates, we evaluate what a switch costs, what maintenance looks like, and how long it is expected to last,” Broders said. “It’s very inexpensive when you start talking about what residential services cost.” 

Additionally, users that are interested in higher connection speeds will be able to pay $20 a month per jack for up to 10 gigabit speeds. However, in order to prepare for the implementation of network access control and to provide the desired performance and reliability, only one device may be connected to a 10-gigabit port. Users with a 10 gigabit connection will not be able to add unmanaged network switches or extenders to their connection, as some have in the past.

To date, work in approximately 36 buildings has been completed, with another 139 still in need of upgrades. Installations have been scheduled during times with lower network traffic to avoid interference with the workflow of university employees; Parks Library’s new switches were recently installed from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. However, the majority of campus buildings contain fewer connections than the library, and most installations will occur around 5 a.m.

“Installations are not expected to affect day-to-day activities of the Iowa State community,” said ITS Systems Analyst Jason Curry. “We’re trying to do this outside of business hours to have as little impact as possible on occupants.”