Turn on the faucet …all the way


One of my highest priorities when planning for “next” year has always been to seek a way to increase Internet bandwidth on campus. This is how I’ve accomplished it up to this point.

More than a decade ago

When I came on board there was a single .5Mbs line leased from the local university. Crappy is not the word considering what was available at the time, and for a lower price none-the-less.

I set out and contracted two T1 lines from two different providers. Each line came on to campus via Ethernet. . A third, faster fiber line, was contracted via yet another provider. Lastly, a microwave link was contracted from the primary telco. The reason various lines were contracted is that in the country where I was located, it was not a common thing for a school to have more than one T1 line. Also, earthquakes and unexpected loss of power are an issue. Having various providers offered the best way to safeguard against losing connectivity all together.

Once they made it into our campus, aggregating the lines together was a challenge. Eventually someone recommended I try FatPipe Networks’ Warp. Though it was not the cheapest product out there we could afford to purchase it at the time. It cost more than $10,000 USD. It did an amazing job of serving as our aggregator and firewall since it also does port mapping/blocking. Great product if you have the budget.

Fast-forward ten years

When I came on campus the school had contracted a home DSL service providing 20Mbs download and 1.5Mbs upload. Not a good thing since I was also deploying Google Apps for Education first thing after landing in the country. I quickly got to work on getting better bandwidth. Since I was the first Tech Dir they hired, ever, it was a good conversation to have with the CFO as to why we needed more bandwidth. Finally I contracted a 100Mbs up/down line for about 775Euros monthly. Yeah, I know, nothing compared to US prices. Since we kept the home DSL service as a backup I found myself needing an aggregator once again. This time, though, I did not have the budget for a Warp.

After much searching I found Zeroshell. Wow, what a product! It’s open-source, so it is not for the faint of heart. There’s a bit of a learning curve. But well worth the time for what it does.

I took an old (I’m talking more than 5yrs old) 486 machine and added three NIC’s to it to get it working with Zeroshell. That box would boot from a custom burnt CD and the OS is quick to load. This is great for when you loose power and the machine restarts on its own after power is re established. Any ways, highly recommended.

Zeroshell aggregates, does RADIUS, firewalls, routes, and NAT’s. All you need for your DMZ and outside connectivity.

What about now you ask?

When I walked onto campus in El Segundo there was a 20Mbs fiber line serving the community. Within the first month I got it upgraded to 100Mbs, though we are paying through the roof. Still, though, it is very reliable and holds near or at 100Mbs most of the time. No complaints on that end. I may need to bring it up to 200Mbs within the next two years, but it all depends if we hold our current course.

You see, we provide Terminal Service Sessions to our students in order for all of them to have access to network resources and the same version of MS Office all at the same time. Since many will go home and connect to our campus network, having the most bandwidth available to the Internet is quite important.

Here comes the sermon…

Bandwidth is the most important component of any campus platform as far as I’m concerned. So many schools have gone the way of the cloud that having crappy access really kills the point. If there is anything you are doing with your budget for next year, I hope it is adding bandwidth so that there are fewer limitations for classroom learning.