Moving Slowly on the Information Highway

Posted: October 12, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Are your e-mails and data transfers moving ever more slowly? There are a number of reasons for the problems–some campus-based and others external to the university.

Recently, George Mason has suffered from an increase in denial-of-service attacks, which the police believe to originate from other countries. Some of the university’s backbone routers and switches are old, and these attacks can cause them to fail. New equipment is on order, which should help, but denial-of-service attacks are also becoming more sophisticated.

Other slowdowns and outages are caused by building equipment failures. Science and Tech I and II, the Johnson Center and Fenwick libraries, Enterprise Hall, and, to a lesser degree, Robinson I and II and King Hall are all vulnerable.

This situation will be alleviated as part of the campus network upgrade project, due to begin in November with Science and Tech I. Science and Tech II will be worked on in January, to be followed by the Johnson Center during Spring Break, and Fenwick and Enterprise during the summer. Equipment in good working order that is displaced during these upgrades will be used to improve the situation in Robinson I and II and King Hall.

While solutions are being developed for internal problems, however, the university is also dealing with two significant external challenges that affect the speed of Internet traffic:

  1. The Network.Virginia network is bottlenecked at the Sprint interface. Sprint is trying to solve this problem by reengineering its network and replacing equipment.
  2. The Bell Atlantic (Verizon) network, on the other hand, is adequate to handle the traffic, but George Mason’s pipe is very congested. Expanding the pipe is expensive and the money is not available to do so. A network analysis shows that 20 percent of the outbound traffic in the pipe is headed for Napster, so the university will be restricting Napster traffic to just a portion of the pipe or to certain hours of the day to improve the flow.

According to experts, about 40 percent of the nation’s universities have restricted Napster traffic. This is a short-term fix, as new technologies increasingly enable users to swap video and voice files without going through a common server, but it is necessary to keep us operational for the moment.

So what long-term solutions lie in the future to deal with network access overload?

Almost all universities are struggling with the issue. The Internet2 project is one solution. Internet2 is a collaborative research effort by universities (including Mason) and corporations to develop a new Internet that is capable of transporting huge files of voice and video data for relatively low cost and at a guaranteed quality of service. As the new hardware, software, and protocols are created and tested, they will be rolled out to the commercial Internet, and we should begin to see a reduction in access problems. Until that time, the university will continue to upgrade equipment and improve service as its resources allow.

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