Fighting Irish tackle network

Every student at the University of Notre Dame can plug in to any network port in any university building and immediately access the Notre Dame Network.

That's a contrast to just four years ago, when the South Bend, Ind., university did not have a telecommunications leg to stand on. To access the Internet for research or e-mail, the 6,400-person undergraduate student body had to use dial-up access to individual Internet accounts or try to get time on the limited number of networked systems available on campus.

After managing information technology and research departments at the University of Arizona, the Air Force Weapons Lab, and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, Larry Rapagnani, assistant provost for information technologies at Notre Dame, found the lack of infrastructure at the university an enticing problem.

"It was the challenge of building it from scratch [that brought me here]," he said. "[I would be the] first to do it and build something that would last into the future and satisfy student needs. It was nice to see it fired up the first time, and it worked as perfectly then as it does now."

Universities today operate much the same as any business. And part of Notre Dame's mission includes equipping students with the tools they need to stay competitive.

"Our 18-year-old freshmen were born when the PC was built, so they were brought up in a PC-centric world and don't know any different," Rapagnani said. "They view their computer as a tool, not as a computer."

Notre Dame's infrastructure was designed on the premise that every student should be able to plug a PC or Mac into any port on campus and immediately be on the ND Network. To accomplish that, Rapagnani and his 150-person staff in the Notre Dame Office of Information Technology built a clustered network that consists of 6,900 network ports installed in 27 residence halls, the student center, classrooms and many other buildings on campus.

They use a robust DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server to manage all the students' computers from one center.

Although Notre Dame does not mandate that students bring a computer to the university, Rapagnani says 95 percent of them do. The remaining 5 percent, or any student who doesn't want to lug around a laptop, can use one of the 600 PCs or Macs and 180 Sun Microsystems Inc. machines stationed on campus.

Copyright 2000 InfoWorld, International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved. Distributed by IDG News Service.

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