Western carries out $1.5 million tech upgrade, partners with Enterasys in wireless project

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University is carrying out a $1.5 million project to upgrade computer capability in university residence halls and classrooms, and is partnering with its network hardware manufacturer to install wireless networking in the public areas of residence halls.

Tyler Jessie, a Western student and residence hall computer consultant, checks out one of 11 new network switches in Central Drive Residence Hall.

Tyler Jessie, a Western student and residence hall computer consultant, checks out one of 11 new network switches in Central Drive Residence Hall.

The Division of Information Technology completed a major upgrade of the data network in a majority of Western’s residence halls during the week of Jan. 31, and the division’s ResNet and networking groups are currently installing network upgrades in Walker, Scott, Helder, Leatherwood, Harrill, Albright/Benton and Robertson residence halls, said Scott Swartzentruber, the division’s director of networking, operations and communications.

The result of that $1 million investment will be a faster and more reliable network for Western’s residential students, Swartzentruber said. Also, an upgrade of the fiber optic infrastructure planned for later this semester will provide increased bandwidth in the residence halls, he said.

Tyler Jessie, a sophomore computer science major from Raleigh who works as a residence hall computer consultant, said Western students seeking information from online sources located on campus, such as the library, and from sources off-campus benefit from faster and more reliable Internet connections. Because of recent upgrades, information now flows into student rooms “faster than we thought was possible,” Jessie said.

“Increasing the speed even further (with increased bandwidth) would be…just wow!” Jessie said.

In the meantime, the division’s educational technologies group is managing about $500,000 worth of technology refresh projects in support of instructional activities, said Bob Orr, Western’s associate chief information officer.

Among those improvements are the upgrading of faculty computers, installation of computer and projection equipment in numerous classrooms, and the upgrading of several departmental computer laboratories, including those that support geographic information systems and digital music.

The college-based technology committees will be working with the educational technologies group to focus on other technology needs and develop a strategy for automatic computer replacement for faculty and staff, Orr said. The division also is developing a timeline for other infrastructure upgrades, including a new student e-mail system, a revamping of central processing facilities, and the creation of centralized network storage.

Enterasys, the manufacturer of Western’s network hardware, is donating $25,000 in hardware to the university to extend wireless network coverage to the main student lounge areas of all Western’s residence halls, said Tom Franke, the university’s chief information officer. Enterasys also will provide site analysis and design services, and the only direct cost to the university will be in wiring installation, Franke said.

The wireless coverage in the residence halls should be activated by the end of spring semester.

Robert Caruso, Western’s vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university’s department of residential living is “very enthusiastic” about the Enterasys donation.

“The new wireless capabilities in some of the public areas of our residence halls will significantly add to the amenities and learning opportunities we offer to our residential students,” Caruso said.

Franke said the projects to upgrade computer capability and install wireless technology in Western’s residence halls depended heavily on the planning and support provided by the residential living staff.

Enterasys also has provided equipment to allow for ubiquitous wireless networking in McKee Building, a structure renovated in 2003 with funds provided through the state’s 2000 higher education bond referendum. The installation will provide for state-of-the-art teaching capability in McKee, a building that still includes some of the original woodwork and old-fashioned chalkboards installed when the building was constructed in 1939.