By: Daniel Cress

Accessing the Internet at the college is a vital part of students’ everyday learning activity, so when an outage occurs it can cause major headaches for students, staff and faculty alike.

The recent frequency of that downtime has Information Institutional Research and Technology Services (IIRTS) working to upgrade the college’s Internet capabilities. Crashes from Sept. 4 – 27 wiped out Internet access across the college’s roughly two million square foot campus, and with consistent service a must for students, especially with Algonquin’s renewed commitment to mobile learning, the need for stability in the system is critical.

“We are a long way down a quite complicated journey to bring the college’s infrastructure and service delivery technologies to the level that I believe people’s expectations fairly are set at,” said IIRTS director Michael Sparling.

The college’s outdated Internet infrastructure is slowly being replaced with technology capable of handling the growing demand for wireless Internet access across campus. That takes time.

“The [IIRTS] team has deftly engineered a multi-million dollar investment in re-engineering most everything the college depends on for its technology over the last 12 months,” said Sparling.

One difficulty in overhauling the college’s infrastructure lies in the nature of continuous activity on campus.
“It’s like getting on a propeller plane and mid-flight it gets built into a jet airliner without having the chance to land,” said Sparling. “The college never stops to give us time to do what we need to do and keep up.”

The demand on the college’s online services is continuing to grow and IIRTS has had to continue to upgrade the technology to accommodate the ways students function online.

“We’re providing three times the bandwidth we did all the way up to spring session, so three times the Internet capacity available in order to be meeting the demands,” said Sparling.

Much of this demand is being placed on the wireless network.

“We’ve seen an over doubling of the bandwidth used by wireless users; a lot more people are connecting, going on the wireless network, and doing it for longer,” said Rod Martin, manager of infrastructure technology service at IIRTS.
Environmental factors are also causing problem spots in the network to continue. From the density of buildings, to the operation of appliances like microwaves, the network is being affected.

“What we really need to know is where on the campus, what time, and what device did someone expect to be able to work on the networks and couldn’t,” said Sparling. “Our commitment back is we will get someone there and we will work on the problem till it’s fixed.”

In an effort to find out more about where Internet issues still persist, IIRTS is starting a campaign on Facebook to find “dead zones.”

“The campaign aims to get crowd-sources information from the people we serve,” said IIRTS communications officer Stacey Vincent. “We’re really aiming to work with our clients to improve our services; help us help you.”

Students are asked to visit the IIRTS Facebook page and comment under the campaign post with the location and time they experienced an Internet dead zone. As motivation, and a way of saying thanks, IIRTS will be giving away gifts to participants.

Many students already know the dead spots.

“It’s a lot faster to log in at T-building than in C-building,” said fourth- year nursing student Pam Roberts. “It can take so long it’s faster to walk to T.”

The campaign gives students a chance to share information like this with IIRTS on platforms they use.

The current campaign goes until Oct. 31 but more like it will follow as IIRTS attempts to root out trouble spots.
The department has been in catch-up mode over the past year, trying to upgrade infrastructure that was never designed to handle the current load.

Looking to the future IIRTS hopes better planning can put them ahead of the curve.

“One thing we are working on is our capacity planning five years out, so we can make better predictions of what’s going to be happening in the environment, instead of experiencing it,” said Martin.

The Internet services at the college have been enhanced with upgrades over the past year but there is still room for improvement and IIRTS knows this.

“Incrementally we are better than we were ever before, but it’s not good enough. Everybody in the department takes it exceptionally seriously and strives for the best service we can deliver and we won’t stop until we see the digital college vision realized,” said Sparling.

Walt Disney: “Technology is at its finest when it’s invisible.”