UCDNet3 plans faster, more wireless future for campus

Imagine if a local agency substantially improved the roads you drive on, the conditions you work in, the speed at which you travel, all at minimal disruption to you. That would be a pretty big deal.

Now think about upgrading the part of your work that involves phones, computers, and online connections, instead of cars or office lighting--and you have the gist of UCDNet3. It is a newly approved six-year plan to improve the shared UC Davis telecommunications system so that it works better, faster, covers more territory, and is ready to meet the burgeoning demand for research and online video, among other changes ahead.

"UCDNet3 culminates more than two years of planning by the leadership in IET-Communications Resources," said Dave Klem, CR director. "We focused on emerging and innovative technologies available to the campus, and integrated those components with a very structured business approach, to assure that the delivery of a new and sustainable network technology platform was technically and financially feasible."

"UCDNet3 says let's be prepared in two ways, as consumers and as producers" of data, said Mark Redican, manager of the Network Operations Center in Information and Educational Technology.

Over the next six years, UC Davis should gain a telecom network with more reliable electronics, better security, much faster speeds, an improved ability to identify and prioritize network traffic, and increased wireless coverage and systems. The network will quickly move the digital mountains of huge data files needed to support advanced research and high-definition video. As a critical initiative, it is proceeding even as IET's budget shrinks.

The Communications Resources group of IET spent much of 2007 developing the plan and presenting it to campus leadership, Redican said. With their approval in place, work has begun and will proceed through 2014.

Up first: Guidance, wireless and the core

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That support will be critical to researchers who need quick access to huge data files and interactive projects.

The plan also anticipates a growing use of video. The biggest single service consumed on campus today is YouTube, Redican noted, primarily because of demand coming from ResNet, the network that serves students' on-campus housing.

--Better equipment. The important point here is that the new equipment will add capacity and redundancy. "Reliability is a big issue," he said.

--Convergence. "This is really about the telecom world moving to using IP as the transport mechanism," Redican said, and away from older, typically analog equipment.

"IP" refers to Internet protocol, or the way data moves over the Internet between two points. VOIP, for instance, means "voice over Internet protocol," or sending phone calls over IP-based data networks instead of over traditional phone lines.

Communications Resources is also preparing for an IP-based PBX (telephone switching system). It's doing some tests now, Redican said, "so it can pull the trigger when ready. That's down the road a ways." An IP-based telephony system could let the campus run its phone system over a wireless network.

--Mobility. As portable devices like iPhones grow in popularity and add functions, telecom access is increasingly mobile, and "Quality of Service" (QoS) becomes vital. Communications Resources plans to be ready.

The term refers to a network's ability to identify and prioritize types of traffic, rating it on a scale of 0 to 7, so that high-priority material sent over the network flows smoothly and reliably. Phone calls are a high priority, to prevent dropouts.

--Speeds and capacity. The campus network will support a tenfold increase in data speeds by 2014, Redican said. Some places will get the upgrade sooner, depending on need, with the core coming first.

The faster speeds are critical as demand for network capacity increases.

Today, if someone wants to download a 90-minute movie over the campus network, the data pipeline usually has room. But demand for capacity is expanding--video use is mushrooming online, Redican said--and so the size of the pipeline needs to increase. Otherwise you get a traffic jam, like on a freeway at rush hour.

The amount of downloadable content is growing much larger every year, and the use of data streams is increasing. Widening the pipeline will also boost the campus's ability to receive high-definition video streams, as well as provide such content to consumers outside UC Davis.

Will work well with others

The work envisioned in UCDNet3, Redican said, will also match upgrades done by the advanced networks run by Internet2 and CENIC. (CENIC stands for the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California; it runs CalREN, a large, fast Internet network designed to serve education and research. Internet2 is a nonprofit advanced networking consortium.) That will help the campus network mesh with the larger networks.

"We're also trying to position ourselves for future optical services," Redican said.

CR Director Klem said the real success in UCDNet3 is "the delivery of new products and services that will support our campus constituents. But the behind-the-scenes success is a credit to a core group of CR staff who put all the technology, funding, and business elements together in a way that made the need for these investments clear."

If all goes according to plan, most people at UC Davis shouldn't notice the work. Just the improvements.

"Much of this work will be invisible to users," Redican said. "They should just see better results, and that the system is growing with demand."