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“Better, Faster and Cheaper” Internet

Students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) can expect better internet reliability and speed following a network update, according to representatives from the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

Prior to this update, internet on SMCM’s campus was provided by the State of Maryland’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT) at a bit rate of one gigabit per second. That means that the internet service provider’s (ISP) “pipes,” as Chris Burch, the Assistant Vice President of Information Technology, calls them, are servicing 1,000 megabits per second. The most recent update, according to OIT, will double that connection to two gigabits per second and provide a secondary pipe via the Maryland Research and Education Network (MDREN).

All limits are off, says Jeffrey Ranta, the senior network security administrator at OIT; students can now surf the web as fast as their computers and the wifi are capable of, as long as they’re connected to “SMCM-guest,” “resnet” or “eduroam.” The bandwidth — the maximum data transfer rate of an internet connection — which each device can use is now effectively unlimited.

Previously, connections were limited to 17 megabytes per second (mbps), but Ranta says that limit has been turned off. This means that the pipes which connect SMCM to the internet can carry more information than before. The wifi connections named “SMCM-Public” and “MobileNet” are still limited to this speed.

For comparison, the University of Maryland, Baltimore College (UMBC) — according to their Division of Information Technology website — has “two ten gigabit links.” UMBC, in terms of student enrollment, is eight and a half times the size of SMCM, meaning their internet connection is around two times the capacity per student. But, according to Ranta, he has not seen a full usage of the two gbps connection, meaning a larger pipe would be unnecessary.

Speaking on Friday, Feb. 3, Ranta says that he saw a peak in internet usage at 1.3 gbps the previous night, which means there were 30 percent more bits per second than before the update, but still not close to operating at full capacity.

For students, many of whom have expressed frustration with slow internet, this may be most exciting part of this change. Slow speeds should no longer be attributed to the campus’s internet connection, but there may be issues with the wifi. If SMCM community members feel their connection still operating rather slowly, OIT recommends submitting a service ticket online.

But, according to OIT, the redundant network is equally as important. “If one provider goes down, we still have [access to the] internet,” Ranta explained. This means even in the event that one provider, be it for scheduled maintenance or an unforeseen problem, goes dark, the backup ISP should immediately kick in, so that members of the community can have continual access the web.

Ranta, Burch, and Robert Brown — the Director of Network Support Services — say that this is important so that progress is not halted on campus in the event of an outage. In the digital age, much of the educational environment is reliant on internet connection.

“Getting a redundant pipe to the internet was nearly essential,” Burch explained “as we see … more applications showing up off campus, and we’re more … dependent on them.” Without services such as Blackboard, the Portal, and email servers, productivity would likely slow. This change is aimed at preventing that from ever happening.

Burch tied the update into the 2016-2019 “A Time for Rebirth” Strategic Plan for SMCM. The strategic plan is the way that the College intends to position itself as a “premier institution of higher education now and in the years to come,” according to the document. Burch says that this change is aligned with goal five of the plan, “create and maintain state-of-the-art, modern facilities, systems, and infrastructure.”

The entire update is actually saving money for the College, according to Burch. “The reality is we were able to negotiate … were actually paying less [money now] for what we have today than what we had before,” Burch said, “This money is going to the same agenc[ies, DoIT and MDREN], it’s just that things are getting cheaper”

SMCM’s internet connection is now “better, faster, and cheaper” according to Burch. OIT was able to procure new physical infrastructure as well as the reconfiguration of current equipment for faster speeds on the College’s network for around $36,000. That money was already budgeted to OIT. “The old equipment was gonna come up on its end of life in a couple years anyway, so it was almost a no-brainer to get new equipment.”

Representatives of OIT want the SMCM community to know that if they are having any issues they should let them know — via an OIT ticket. The internet connection should be “better” and “faster” now for its users, but Ranta emphasizes, “we can’t fix [problems] if we don’t know about them.”

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