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Updating NU technology is a never-ending struggle

Norwich Guidon Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:04

For 22-year-old Andrew Daddio, technology is an important part of his everyday life, whether it is taking notes in a class, checking on stocks, or sending an email.

The senior business management major from Malden, Mass., is one of many students who take full advantage of the internet and mobile services provided at Norwich.

Daddio said that while most devices can be connected here, there are still the occasional problems.

“Whether I’m in my dorm room or an academic building there will be spots where I lose Wi-Fi connection entirely,” he said.

The difficult job of keeping up with these services goes to the IT (Information Technology) department. The IT staff works hard trying to keep up with the technological demands of Norwich students, faculty, and staff, and also with changes in technology.

“This is a never-ending struggle, it is the inherent nature of the business,” said Frank T. Vanecek, dean of the school of business and management and vice president for technology. “You’re not going to get ahead, so to speak, because you’re dealing with a technology that is constantly changing.”

This “never-ending struggle” to keep up with technology affects not only the IT department but also the students, faculty, and staff here at Norwich.

Vanecek notes that, “IT needs to be constantly upgrading software, upgrading hardware, upgrading capabilities” to keep up with the demand.

A recent important upgrade to the Norwich network was the huge increase in bandwidth accomplished in January of 2011. But this was not the only recent upgrade, said Vanecek.

“The students a year ago were complaining about the wireless network – they (couldn’t) put their devices on... saying that we didn’t have a wireless network,” Vanecek said.

He explained that when the wireless network was installed 10-15 years ago at Norwich, there were no mobile devices that needed to get on the network. Nowadays since the technology has advanced, students bring in multiple devices they expect to get on the network.

“iPhones, iPads, games, all that kind of stuff takes a heavy toll on the wireless network,” Vanecek said. “Our response is, ‘we have to upgrade the wireless network,’ which is what we’re doing.”

In fall of 2011, IT opened up the new wireless network just for the students, so that they could get all of their wireless gear on the system. There are still more significant upgrades coming.

Daddio, for one, appreciates the effort. “I think that the IT department has done well given the expansion into offering Wi-Fi for different digital devices,” said Daddio. “When I first came to Norwich it was nearly impossible to connect a video game console to the internet.”

Daddio said that the wireless connection is the most important to him and that being able to access the internet away from his laptop is also a concern.

Norwich officials understand the need and made it a focus. “We made the decision to do the students first, the current network cannot handle all the students, faculty and staff using mobile devices,” said Vanecek. “So what we have done is, we have prevented the faculty and staff from using mobile devices. The first step is to get all the students and their mobile devices active, and that’s already done.”

An upgrade for the wireless network that will allow all mobile devices on campus to work is coming soon, said Vanecek.

“We are in the process this summer of upgrading the wireless network to handle those mobile devices, so that by the fall we will be all set,” he said. Vanecek said that if all the mobile devices on campus were allowed on the wireless network now, it would bring it down.

For the IT department, the wireless challenge is just one aspect of planning for Norwich’s future needs. “When we upgrade it, does that mean our job is done? No, because technology is going to continue to change and we always have to be looking for the next technology that’s coming out, he said.

Constant and rapid changes in technology often complicate the process of selecting projects that have an impact on the mission of the institution, said Joseph Morvan, director of information technology.

“They need to add value to what we have now and value to future initiatives,” said Morvan. “Often this requires taking the time to think beyond the immediate and focus on what really matters in the long term.

Improvements in accessing learning resources and research, developing management information systems to support the Norwich community, and facilitating better communication, are also important aspects to IT and the university, Morvan explained.

“We believe we bring great value to the university and our faculty, staff and students by providing the vehicle through technology, to be successful in terms of academic achievement,” Morvan said.

Vanecek added that the primary service IT provides is to keep the basic network infrastructure, both wired and mobile, working smoothly, so people can log on in the morning, get on the internet and do their job.

“We do provide a lot of other services, such as individual help, so if somebody has an individual problem with their computer with some software they’re running, be it a student or a faculty or staff, the help desk is available to assist in getting peoples’ situations resolved,” Vanecek said.

He added that the other key things that IT provides is keeping external channels open, to allow the campus to “get out there” and send emails and get on the internet.

“In January of 2011, the size of our pipe (bandwidth) is what we would call ‘70 meg’ (megabytes per second) and the students were complaining about it, too slow,” he said.

Norwich spent $90,000 to upgrade the bandwidth from 70 to 200 megabytes per second, paying $50,000 for new equipment and then taking on an annual cost of $40,000 dollars to support the upgrade.

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