UNH InterOperability Lab celebrates new facility

July 1, 2004
The University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL; www.iol.unh.edu) is celebrating its 16th year, and its first year in a new 34,000-square-foot off-campus facility in Durham.

The University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL; www.iol.unh.edu) is celebrating its 16th year, and its first year in a new 34,000-square-foot off-campus facility in Durham. On hand for the open house were New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson, as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. senators John Sununu and Judd Gregg.

Established in 1988 at the university's main campus, UNH-IOL is a non-profit organization that offers interoperability and conformance-based testing through 19 technology-based groups, called consortiums. Test solutions offer a set of methods to increase interoperability through protocol operations, signaling, point-to-point and multi-system scenarios.

Graduate student Jeremy Kent inspects a patch panel installed by students at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory.
Click here to enlarge image

The old laboratory was stretched out among four campus locations, which stymied engineers' ability to communicate and cross-reference their work, even though their customers overlapped one another. At the new state-of-the-art laboratory, Ben Shultz, managing engineer for the lab, says engineers and students can now efficiently work with one another.

"From a technical perspective, it's easier to share resources from a group when the guy is right next to me doing the work," says Schultz.

"We all had the same problems to solve; It's just that now, they are being solved more fluidly," says Bob Noseworthy, 10-Gigabit Ethernet Consortium manager. "Here, if someone comes in and something special develops, you can go across the hall and just pull in the resources that you need."

The lab tests 10-Gigabit Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Power over Ethernet, Voice over X and wireless technologies, to name a few. It plays host to Fortune 100 companies like Microsoft, IBM, Fujitsu, AT&T and Broadcom. Cable and cable equipment manufacturers like Avaya Inc. (Basking Ridge, NJ; www.avaya.com), Mohawk/CDT (Leominster, MA; www.mohawk-cdt.com), and Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA; www.cisco.com) are members. A total of 190 companies are now coming to the lab to make sure their latest products are interoperable with one another.

"We are a piece of their design team," says Noseworthy. "They bring in the cable expertise, and we do the networking and put together their systems so they are interoperable."

The laboratory is staffed by a mix of technology professionals and more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students. UNH lab students acquire hands-on experience working with the newest technologies and products from dozens of major companies. In a physical layer testing area for Gigabit Ethernet, for example, students place cable in worst-case-scenarios to test for compliance.

Students installed much of the cable that runs the lab. Category 5e and 6 copper cable, optical-fiber, cable, patch panels, and other equipment were donated by manufacturers.

"Over the past 15 years, we've quietly grown into a top-tier institution with a strong reputation for in-depth technology application," says Scott Valcourt, UNH-IOL managing director. "We give hundreds of students, who come through the laboratory, the benefits of that work while they're here in Durham. And when they graduate, they take that experience with them to companies all over the world."

"Being here teaches you that you have to continue to learn things," says Aaron Kamerman, a former student who attended the event. "You come in with a blank slate; you are very limited. But you have to learn to pick it apart and take it down."

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