February 2020 CIO Update
Happy almost Leap Day! For this month’s entry, I am sharing some information on the remote parts of our campus network, and I’m also happy to highlight a new wireless presentation solution recently introduced by Academic Technologies.
Wide Area Networks
VCU Network Services recently completed the migration of circuits supporting ten remote sites to a new carrier, Segra, Inc. Compared to the services being replaced, the new circuits provide higher bandwidth at a lower cost, and Segra provides some behind the scenes improvements that will make troubleshooting problems easier.
Wide Area Network (WAN) circuits are used to support sites that are too far from the campus to cost effectively connect directly to the VCU fiber network backbone. While a number of circuit types could be used to create a WAN, in our case each site is connected to the provider’s private cloud network, which is also connected to the VCU network at 900 E. Main. The circuits are configured such that traffic from each site can only pass through to 900 E. Main, and is isolated from all other traffic on the provider’s private cloud. This allows us to securely extend the VCU campus network to the remote sites, enabling services such as access control, VCU Wireless networks, Avaya phones, Alertus beacons, and other services as well as allowing direct access to resources that are restricted to the VCU campus.
Why not connect remote sites to a broadband Internet provider instead? That would place the remote site outside of the protections provided by the VCU firewall and security monitoring services, and prevent the extension of the services mentioned above – they either cannot be extended over the Internet at all, or can’t be extended securely or reliably. Additionally, broadband connections generally do not have performance guarantees, while the WAN circuits VCU uses come with Service Level Agreements guaranteeing up time and speed.
There are some limitations to WAN circuits that make connection to the VCU fiber network highly preferable:
- Speed is generally limited to 100Mbs per site. Higher speeds are available, but so far have proved too costly to implement.
- The circuits come with a fairly high monthly cost. In general, there is no central funding for WAN circuits, so this cost mostly falls on the tenant’s department to fund.
- Circuits come with a contract term, which generally ranges from one to three years.
- Contracting and construction for a new site could take 6 months or more to make ready.
Even with these limitations, the WAN over private cloud solution is still the most cost effective and reliable option for many sites needing connection to the VCU network. If you are considering a site that is not currently connected to the VCU network please contact VCU Network Services early on in the process to get details on possible options and costs.
Academic Technologies Selects New Wireless Presentation Solution
After testing the leading wireless presentation solutions on the market, Academic Technologies has officially adopted Kramer VIA Connect Pro. VIA was piloted at various locations on campus and was chosen for its reliability, features, cost and administrative management options. This hardware and software-based solution allow participants to view the main display, share and edit documents and chat with individuals or multiple participants simultaneously, right from their laptop or mobile device. VIA supports cross-platform compatibility and works with Windows laptops, Chromebooks, MAC, plus iOS and Android mobile operating systems. Easy and intuitive instructions for users will display on their device once it is sourced to VIA.
Ports have been configured to allow student access, but guests will need either an eID to present wirelessly, a hardwired connection to the VCU network, or a connection to the HDMI auxiliary port on the system (if applicable). Hosted at the UCC, VIA Site Management (VSM) software allows administrators to manage, monitor and make changes to all connected VIA Connect Pro units. There are currently 30 units deployed, including the 1st and 2nd floors of MCLAC, TAB 108 and 202, and various user conference rooms that piloted the project. Plans for the coming year are to deploy 20 more units in central spaces on both campuses. A VIA Connect Pro device costs around $700 plus the (strongly recommended) extended 2-year warranty for $100. There are no recurring fees for the unit, unlike many other competitors, although there are some initial setup fees.
For more information, please visit the Classroom Technology Resources page in askIT.
As always, thanks to my colleagues in Technology Services and in distributed IT units for all of your work!