Network hampered by unexpected shutdowns

The Princeton Review named Temple University one of the 25 most connected campuses in the nation in 2006, but a recent increase of network failures has caused students to question that ranking.

Since May 2007, the network has experienced at least 10 unplanned network shutdowns. One recently occurred on Aug. 29 and lasted about three hours when many students were meeting with advisers.

Michael Taylor, director of telecommunications, said the Office of Telecommunications is in the midst of a refresh cycle in which they replace current hardware with more up-to-date hardware that will make the network run more smoothly.

“The hardware is old and we need to do some replacement,” Taylor said. “The replacement project takes five years to replace all of the components. It’s a constant cycle and we just began the last cycle in July of 2006.”

In addition, the telecommunications office is introducing more “redundancy” into the system so when a problem occurs in one connection box, it will isolate itself rather than causing a chain reaction
that brings down the entire network, Taylor said. They are also replacing the nearly 12-year-old routers on campus with new 10-gigabyte router interfaces, doubling the bandwidth.

“Here’s the ultimate Holy Grail of networks that will never go down and it hasn’t quite worked out that way for us,” said Adam Ferrero, director of network services. “We had some unexpected results.”

The problem occurred when Main Campus’ new and updated network was expanded to the Temple Health Science Center which is still equipped with the old hardware. The new equipment has safety features that detect unusual traffic events and shut down the affected port to keep the problem contained.

But on Aug. 29, the failure happened at such a key location that several ports shut down and isolated themselves, masking the problem from network maintenance, Ferraro said.

The issue was attributed to manufacturing problems on the Taylor said.”Anything can happen when it goes into a state of confusion,” Ferraro said. “Every component of the network is tied together.”

Students should not expect any more unplanned network shutdowns this semester, but there will be occasional planned “maintenance windows,” where the telecommunications office will shut down the network to make minor adjustments officials in the department said.

These windows take place throughout the night so the fewest people possible will be affected by it.

“The network is a critical component,
and it’s one of our most important assets at the university,” said Timothy O’Rourke, vice president of computer and information services.

“Our university hospital also uses this network, so in many ways, it’s life and death.”

Temple Hospital has a back-up procedure in the case of such an incident
where they can resort to the hard copies of a patient’s file, Taylor said.

However, the hospital still relies on the network for many procedures, such as sending X-rays and performing MRI scans. Main Campus is also completely reliant on the network and is completely without any kind of back-up system, O’Rourke said.

“When the network goes down, everything on the campus shuts down, from Blackboard to student e-mails and access to records,” O’Rourke said.

“We are extremely reliant on the network.”At the same time, O’Rourke insists
that Temple has one of the most advanced and reliable networks in the nation, comparing it to an airplane.

“When the plane takes off and lands, everybody is happy,” O’Rourke said.

“But when it crashes, there is a crisis, and that’s when suddenly everybody
takes notice.”

Sam Benesby can be reached at

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