Today we have our last installations of the network switch replacement project. This project was one part of a larger effort to renew the campus network. You’ll hear about other efforts in the near future.
For now, on this sunny, quiet Friday morning, I’m taking a moment to reflect on the past 4 weeks! Yes, you read that correctly: 4 weeks. Our first installation was on May 8. Since then, the team has installed 111 switches in 64 locations. Originally we expected to start no later than April 24 and finish on June 15.
The team did an amazing job to complete this in 4 weeks + 1 day. Honestly though, it happened because all the departmental coordinators were extremely supportive and flexible with scheduling the outages. Almost all of our installations happened during the work day. Some departments accommodated outages of 2 hours! The team work from the coordinators allowed us to finish ahead of schedule even with our compressed time frame. Well done!
If I could, I’d give everyone involved a treat. Alas, you’ll need to settle for a pic of cupcakes.
While the techs were busy doing the important work in the library, I may have swooned for a bit in the racks. Can you blame me?
Eventually I made it up to the top floor where there are more computers and not so much books. That’s what libraries look like these days. A mix of technology and print.
The network closet up there was one of the largest replacements of this project. The switch setup we implemented with any of the multiple-switch closets on campus is a “stack”. Today’s was a 5 stack. We have only one other 5 stack closet on campus. Most closets have 1 or 2 switches. Because of the number and complexity, we scheduled 2 hours for this one and the techs completed it within an hour. They continue to amaze! That’s a lotta lights!
Hitting 50% complete was seeming a bit elusive for a while. With today’s installs in the books, we flew right past it and are at 63% complete.
We’ve completed the following buildings:
- Law Center
- Business Center
- Charles Foundation
- Charles Royal
- 5 W. Chase/Chase Morton
- 40 W. Chase
- Maryland Avenue Garage
We have 44 switches to go!
A big thank you to some extraordinary department coordinators. They have been instrumental in scheduling floors, especially when there are multiple departments that will be affected by on outage. Coordinating these outages, you get to see some great examples of collaboration and the value of inter-departmental relationships.
I wonder what percentage we’ll reach this time next week?
When you’re working in tight spaces with lots of nooks and crannies, a headlamp is an absolute must. I wonder if it’s USB rechargeable?
And coffee. Super strong, ooze from your pores coffee.
If you see any of our tenacious switch installers today, consider buying them a refreshing, cold drink! It’s been a hot few days to be rolling heavy boxes up and down between 40 W. Chase and the rest of campus. We hit record body heat temps yesterday in Chase Morton’s basement. Somehow this lonely, iced coffee was barely touched during the heat wave. It was sweating but not as much as the guys doing the work.
Today our team descended on the Angelos Law Center to prepare for several installations next week. We installed 16 switches today in the law center. Fortunately we had a trendy Honda Element at our disposal to move them from our super secret location to the law center.
This type of work is called pre-staging. Obviously that term is not unique to networking. In our world, it means mounting the new switch while keeping the active switch live. Pre-staging cannot happen in every network closet because there’s no room for another switch. The benefit of pre-staging is minimizing outage time to swap the switches. It’s a matter of moving cables from one switch to the same spot in the new switch. Here’s one of the law center closets after it was pre-staged. Under each switch with yellow cables coming out, you can see there’s an empty switch ready for action on Monday.
If we cannot pre-stage, the outage is longer. We have to disconnect the active switch and dismount it from the rack before we can put the new switch in place. Pre-staging versus not is kind of like being able to make a breakfast casserole the night before to pop in the oven the next morning before your guests arrive versus making pancakes, sausage, and eggs for a party of 8 while everyone is waiting for their food.
At this point you have heard there is a network outage being scheduled for your area. You’ve heard you won’t have access to the Internet and email. You may have heard other things like you’ll be completely shut out of your computer, you won’t be able to work for a day, the building may crumble down around you while you wait. BREATHE.
Let’s address the basics of what is happening and how it will affect you and your work.
- Outages will last anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. In full disclosure, our team has identified two closets that could take 90 minutes but most will take 60 minutes or less. These outages are not an all day event.
- Applications that do not use the network will work. If you have writing (MS Word) or designing (InDesign, Photoshop) to catch up on or a presentation to work on, this is a good opportunity to “unplug” and take advantage of no distractions. Ahead of the outage, you need to save any online files locally. The OTS Call Center can help you with this.
- During the 30-60 minute outage, these things will not work from your computer:
- Internet connection (no web browsing, no access to online research sites, no streaming music)
- Intranet/campus network (no email, no R/M/S/T drives, no printing to network printers, no MyUB portal, no PeopleSoft, no TaskStream)
- UB desk phone
- Network connected printers (if you have a printer directly connected to your computer, you will still be able to print)
- Wireless devices in that same area but you could take your wireless-enabled laptop or phone to another floor or building and be connected
- During an outage, you can relocate to any OTS-supported labs. Check that page for hours.
Here’s what you need to do before and after your area’s outage: very little.
- Save any open files.
- Save drafts of emails you’re composing.
- End any phone calls you’re having through your UB phone.
When the 30-60 minute outage is over, OTS staff will circulate through your area checking for problems. We want to make sure you can access your UB email, get on the Internet, and that your phone is working. If any of this does not work immediately, we’ll start troubleshooting with every techy’s favorite step: reboot your computer. Likewise, classrooms will be checked to ensure instructor stations are functioning properly.
All outages are being scheduled in cooperation with departments. We are hoping most can be scheduled during business hours and expect that some must happen in the evening or weekend. We have contacts from each building and department to share information about the outage, including reminders as we get closer to your scheduled time.
Ever think about the technical wizardry that connects you to the Internet at work? If you have setup your connection at home through your cable company, you might have a concept of a box that plugs into the wall with your devices connecting to that box either with a cable or wirelessly. After that connection is made, those devices can access the Internet.
On campus, it’s slightly (a lot) more complicated than that for many reasons. One reason is the sheer volume of devices on campus and another reason is because you access things from your desktop that are only accessible from a campus connection.
The concept is similar to your home connection in that there is a box–or two–that make those connections possible. One of those boxes is called a network switch. A switch allows us to consolidate all connections in an area into one closet, and connects them to the network and Internet. A switch looks like this:
A switch like the one here would connect 48 devices to the campus network and Internet.
Throughout campus, on almost every floor of a building, there is a closet with network equipment, including a switch or switches. For each connected device (think: computer and printer) on that floor or in that area, there is a cable that comes into the closet and makes its way to one of those openings on the front of the switch. There’s another cable that comes off the switch and goes into another box, effectively putting that switch–and all the devices connected to it–on the campus network and the Internet.
Here’s an example a basic network closet at UB. It has one switch. The blue, yellow, and green cables each represent a connected device on that floor.
With the network switch replacement project starting, we hope it’s helpful to share information about the role this hardware plays in allowing you to do your online work. This is a bare bones explanation of how our Internet connections work and a switch’s purpose at UB. There are many components and configurations that sit between your computer and the Internet. That detail would bore most of us but maybe we’ll have someone write about that during this project for those who love that stuff.