Technology services improves campus wi-fi

Brandi Doyal, Staff Reporter

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Tulane Technology Services is in the process of making noticeable changes to campus technology and Internet.

Charlie McMahon, vice president for information technology and chief technology officer, said the university began preparing to upgrade the Wi-Fi network in 2005, but never did because of Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, the technology department began replacing the entire Wi-Fi network with new equipment, including the wireless access points. Technology Services will complete the upgrades during the summer by installing wireless access points in the residential halls.

The upgrades have increased the speed of the Wi-Fi. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Lieu Tran said Tulane’s old Wi-Fi network could only power about 50 houses with a speed of 500 megabytes per second, which was not enough for the university to run on. The updated Wi-Fi now runs at a speed of 10 gigabytes per second, which is about 20 times the speed of the old system. McMahon said this update would improve the student experience with the Wi-Fi network.

“We are trying to make sure we have enough internet capacity so that the students are able to not only consume information over the Internet for educational purposes, but also for entertainment purposes,” McMahon said. “So if you are downloading music or videos or playing games we are trying to have enough bandwidth so that you can have a pretty good experience doing that from the residence halls in particular, but also from other places around campus.”

The computers in the library, classrooms and the computer labs on campus are replaced every four years. Director of Academic Technologies Services Derek Totem said this year’s update, however, will introduce virtual computer technology.

“You will sit down and there will be a monitor, mouse, keyboard and a box to plug a USB device into and you can pull up all your programs and the internet just the way you do now,” Totem said. “What’s going happen is that box isn’t going to be a full computer, like you expect now; it is going to be getting its information from a server. We can keep them up-to-date and error-free much more quickly, push out the new software much more quickly and have those computers at top form.”

Students and faculty will be able to access the university’s virtual network and run university software on their own laptops, eliminating the costs students spend on software for classes and parallel operating systems. Totem said this system will allow Tulane to decrease its spending on buying licenses because they can accurately count the number of students who use certain software.

Technology Services plans to have the virtual desktop technology that many peer institutions already use in place and fully operational by the spring of 2015. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was one of the first institutions to move entirely to a virtual computer system and to eliminate their computer labs. While Tulane is not planning to implement this technology to that extent, McMahon said he thinks it will be beneficial for both technology services and the students. 

“The virtual desktop technology does a couple of things for us,” McMahon said. “It makes it easier for us to manage large computer labs, so we can go to the servers and make sure they have the right software and security patches. We have to manage a handful of big, powerful servers instead of a couple hundred individual computers. The idea of extending the virtual desktop to your personal machine means that if there is software you have to have for your class, instead of having to buy that and install it on your computer, you bring up that virtual interface for the class you are in [and] the software is there.”