Bringing a campus cabling plant up to standard

With the pride and spirit of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame's infrastructure team embarks on an upgrade.

Jan 1st, 2004
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With the pride and spirit of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame's infrastructure team embarks on an upgrade.

Renowned for its academic reputation, the University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842 and today is organized into four undergraduate colleges, 10 major research institutes, more than 40 centers and special programs, and a prestigious library system. The university is situated on 1,250 acres with 136 buildings, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the 14-story Hesburgh Library, and the Golden Dome, which are among the most widely recognized university landmarks in the world.

As the nation's top-ranking Catholic university, school pride permeates the entire Notre Dame campus. No exception to that pride are recent efforts by the university's in-house infrastructure team to upgrade the campus cabling plant and provide new technologies.

Strength in small numbers

Maintaining and upgrading a cabling plant for a 136-building campus is no easy task for a team of five. While subcontractors are sometimes hired for large-scale projects, approximately 95% of the campus cabling is completed by Notre Dame's own five-person cabling infrastructure team, which includes a network designer, installation manager, and three technicians. "Our team handles the entire campus, which is like a small city with over 16,000 users," says Eric Mauch, network design engineer. "We're so familiar with the closet locations and the logistics that it's a huge cost saving to keep everything in house."

The team is responsible for pulling and terminating a variety of cable for voice, data, video, and cable TV during upgrades, renovations, new construction, and day-to-day moves, adds, and changes (MACs).

According to Dr. Dewit Latimer, the university's chief technology officer and deputy CIO, Notre Dame uses an in-house team for cost and performance benefits. "The fast responsiveness and ability to fine tune the work on our own schedule to meet our exact specifications is a key benefit of having an in-house team," says Latimer. "Notre Dame invests heavily in the professional development of its staff across the board, and the team takes a lot of pride in what they do."

With only five individuals to manage the infrastructure, selecting tools and technologies to save labor is imperative. "When we're pulling cable for upgrades and new projects, we still have the day-to-day issues to deal with," says Mauch. "Tools and technologies that save time are well worth the money."

Start of something big

Although its buildings may be decades old, the University of Notre Dame's technology has brought high-speed Internet, e-mail, and network access to more than 16,000 users since 1996 when the university activated a campuswide networking system. To bring the cabling infrastructure up to today's standards for state-of-the-art technologies, the university recently embarked on a campuswide upgrade. "We have multiple technology goals we're trying to achieve, and our broadest goal is to assist the faculty and staff in integrating the appropriate technology into their teaching and research programs," says Latimer. "A robust infrastructure is an integral part of that goal."

One of the university's initial projects is the recent renovation of Hesburgh Library, built in 1963 for a collection that has grown from 200,000 to nearly 3 million volumes. The 14-story library is renowned for its 132-foot-high mural of Jesus the Teacher, known as "Touchdown Jesus," which overlooks the end zone where fans cheer on the Fighting Irish football team. In late 2001, the university set out to reconfigure the library's lower level to create a pleasing study environment with Internet access at every seat.

In the basement of the library, existing Category 4 cabling ran from telecommunications rooms (TRs) to junction boxes and up through a concrete ceiling to workstations located throughout the library's main floor. The demolition of the library's basement included the removal of walls and solid concrete ceiling, as well as a comprehensive asbestos abatement. "The biggest challenge was to keep the existing Category 4 connections on the main floor active while the basement ceilings and walls came down," says Jeff Freymut, installation manager for the team. The team worked in the evening hours to reterminate the existing Category 4 cable above the concrete ceiling.

In five new basement TRs, Category 6 cable terminates via Hubbell's Xcelerator Jack Panels, which feature snap-in design for easier installation and simplified MACs. "We like the snap-fit panels, because we believe that a jack-to-jack connection offers the best performance and lowest loss," explains Mauch. Under Hubbell's 25-year warranty, the system provides guaranteed power-sum attenuation-to-crosstalk ratio (PSACR) headroom, which ensures optimal system performance and assist in limiting the bit error rate (BER) that can cause costly retransmissions and downtime.

In selecting the cable and connectivity, the infrastructure team showed its true university pride by concentrating on aesthetics. "I believe that if we look good, we feel good about our telecommunications spaces and take better care of the infrastructure," says Mauch. CommScope provided Notre Dame with "Irish-green" Category 6 plenum cable printed with "University of Notre Dame" directly on the cable jacket. For the connectivity, Hubbell manufactured exclusive gold patch cords, green cable ties printed with the Notre Dame logo, and special Xcelerator jacks. To match university colors, each Hubbell 6-port IFP faceplate included one blue jack for voice and three gold jacks for data. Hubbell also printed blanks for unused ports with a gold "ND."

"Both CommScope and Hubbell were willing to work with us on the aesthetics," says Mauch. "The workstations are classy-looking and specific to Notre Dame."

In keeping with the team's effort to choose tool and technologies that save labor time, Hubbell's 1-Punch punch-down tool was used for the Hesburgh Library project. The 1-Punch saves time by accurately punching down and simultaneously cutting off all eight conductors laced to a Hubbell Xcelerator jack. "The library upgrade was the first Notre Dame project where the 1-Punch tool was in mass use, and it saved almost 20,000 punches," says Freymuth.

Campuswide endeavors

In addition to installing Category 6 in the remaining areas of Hesburgh Library, several other projects are underway at the university to enhance network speed and embrace new technologies. In 2003, Notre Dame installed a wireless network, nicknamed "NOMAD," that uses 802.11b access points in many academic and social areas. "In the same spirit of delivering bandwidth to where we do business, we're implementing wireless where the faculty teach and the students learn" says Latimer. "People don't think linearly—learning includes a complex web of thoughts and taking tangents from here and there to solve problems. Being able to access appropriate information in real time via wireless is very powerful."

Because the university takes a holistic approach to technology, focusing on end-to-end performance, another project in the works is tapping in to dark fiber from 90 miles away in Chicago. This project will provide access to increased research-based bandwidth via the Internet2/Abilene Backbone Network—a complement to high-performance research networks. Internet2 is a consortium led by 200 universities to deploy advanced network applications and technologies, and Abilene connects regional network aggregation points, called gigaPoPs, to support the work of Internet2 universities.

"What we pay for commodity Internet is considerably more than what the Chicago market enjoys," says Latimer. "Because we have an insatiable appetite for commodity bandwidth, we're using what we're currently paying for it in the South Bend market to fund the dark fiber initiative into Chicago." According to Latimer, the fiber will nearly quadruple the bandwidth into the Notre Dame campus for the same amount of money currently being paid for Internet and Internet2 communications.


For Hesburgh Library and other high-profile areas, Notre Dame's infrastructure team selected 6-port IFP faceplates with one blue jack for voice and three gold jacks for data to match university colors.
Click here to enlarge image

Other significant projects include upgrading the residence halls to 100Base-T. "Notre Dame has a commitment to student life and the residential experience, and we all recognize that learning takes place in many venues," says Latimer. "We are upgrading ResNet, our campuswide residential network, to deliver the same level of performance to students as we deliver to faculty and staff." Slated for completion in the second semester of the 2003-2004 academic year, the ResNet upgrade will deliver 100 Mbits/sec to the port, which Latimer says is requisite for students to function in terms of workload.

Upcoming construction on the Notre Dame campus entails a Category 6 install at an addition to the university law school and at the new Guglielmino Athletic Center. A new cabling infrastructure with more than 5,000 Category 6 connections will be installed at the new science-learning center, and 3,000 Category 6 connections are planned at the joint Indiana University/Notre Dame medical education and research facility.

A new performing arts center is also in the early stages of construction, and with 96 strands, it will be the biggest installation of singlemode fiber on campus. For future projects and upgrades, Notre Dame has selected the Hubbell-CommScope Category 6 solution with exclusive green Category 6 cable, gold patch cords, and special-colored Xcelerator jacks in high-profile areas across the campus. "Notre Dame is growing, and many challenges are on the horizon," says Mauch.

The hierarchical star topology of the University of Notre Dame's campus cabling plant was originally designed with 96 strands of 62.5-µm multimode optical-fiber cable and 24 strands of singlemode optical-fiber cable. Fiber runs from the main cross-connect in the basement of Hesburgh Library to seven intermediate cross-connects in key buildings.

"The seven key buildings are strategically located to serve different areas of the campus," explains Mauch. "They extend second-level backbone cabling to each of the remaining 128 buildings via 24 strands of multimode and 12 strands of singlemode." Although Notre Dame does not have a Token Ring environment, Category 4 was chosen in the early 1990s because it was the standard at the time. "There is still some remaining Category 4 cabling that needs to be replaced, because it's not adequate for moving to 100Base-T and not compliant with current standards," says Mauch.

Most of Notre Dame's 27 residence halls contain one TR in the basement. "Some of the residence halls are over 100 years old, and when they installed ResNet, they made a closet out of anything they could," says Mauch. "We're now working to get out of the broom-closet mentality and establish compliance with EIA/TIA 568-B standards, which will require the implementation of fiber riser and a TR on each floor with proper equipment racks, isolated ground power, and cooling."

Upgrading the ResNet system to 100Base-T will be a challenge, requiring the installation of Category 6 cabling in pathways originally designed for smaller-diameter Category 4. "We will pull out the Category 4 and try to use as much of the existing pathways as possible," says Mauch. "Residence halls are also the most difficult to upgrade because many of them have old, thick plaster walls and they're occupied 24 hours a day."

Because coaxial cable was not originally pulled into the residence halls, the university has had to consider other options for bringing cable TV to the students. "We're looking at video over IP to offer cable TV, a trend that's emerging in the academic world," says Latimer. "We can't afford to take the residence halls offline and try to pull in coax, and video over IP is one of the drivers behind upgrading the system for sufficient bandwidth."


For cabling aesthetics, Hubbell provided exclusive gold patch cords, green cable ties printed with the Notre Dame logo, and gold Xcelerator jacks installed in Hubbell patch panels.
Click here to enlarge image

Like all universities, Notre Dame faces frequent MACs, and the existing 110 cross-connect system using two-pair cable instead of 110-to-110 patch cords has proven difficult to label and time-consuming to maintain. "Network engineers have to go floor-to-floor searching for active ports and open pairs to accommodate MACs," says Mauch. While the Notre Dame infrastructure team has control over station cable, labeling, testing, and connectivity, a lack of control over the line cord from the PC to the workstation is a concern moving forward.

"Although we've made great strides, we're only as fast as our slowest link," says Mauch. "With more than 16,000 users, we don't always know what is being plugged into the network. That's why we need to educate students and staff on the importance of not just plugging in mom's old phone cord, or using an old cord that may be too long or has impedance issues."

Janet Crook is with Hubbell Premise Wiring's (www.hubbell-premise.com) marketing communications group. Betsy Ziobron is a freelance writer for the cabling industry. She co-wrote this article on behalf of Hubbell.

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