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Campus backbone cutover project over halfway complete

By Emily Rushton

University Information Technology (UIT) is on a mission to switch all campus and hospital buildings over to new network backbone equipment that’s been in place for almost a year. In just six short months, the project has reached 65% completion – thanks to the tireless efforts of UIT’s Common Infrastructure Services (CIS) department.

“This project is basically an extension of the backbone equipment replacement project,” said Earl Lewis, project manager for CIS.

Equipment for the campus network backbone was replaced over a year ago, but it’s taken some time to get enough traction for buildings to start taking advantage of it, although the benefits are plenty.

“It’s new equipment,” said Lewis. “It’s more stable and current, and it’s a lot more manageable.”

“It’s also simplifying the network,” he added. “As these buildings get deployed, they’re being done in a more standard way. It’s giving us an opportunity to look at how things are being done for building connectivity.”

Lewis says they’ve had positive feedback so far, thanks in large part to their efficient and relatively unobtrusive process.

“Many of the buildings get cut over in under 10 minutes,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty solid process in place for this work.”

Lewis and the project team do everything they can to ensure appropriate communication has happened before a building is scheduled to be cut over. Sam Thornton, an information systems major and one of CIS’ student employees, has played a big role in that.

“We try to make contact with whomever is going to be affected to try to figure some of these things out ahead of time,” said Thornton. “It’s not always possible, but we do our best to resolve those issues before they come up.”

Given the decentralized nature of the University, it’s no surprise that a single and concise list of building and/or IT managers doesn’t already exist.

“That’s been my biggest focus, tracking down and trying to find and make contact with folks at all the various buildings on campus,” said Thornton. “It’s been an adventure, to say the least.”

“It takes a lot of time, trying to call people, email, and do good follow-up, and Sam’s been a great asset in that regard,” said Lewis.

The actual cutover process generally requires a team of about 10 employees – some from the fiber team, and some from the network team. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation work involved, as well.

“We have to get in contact with campus security to get the building open, make sure we’re all working off the same playbook, so to speak, and make sure everybody is in place at the right place and at the right time,” said Lewis. “So it’s definitely a team effort.”

While there’s no concrete completion date (due to the need for more fiber optic cable to be laid), Lewis is optimistic that they’ll finish within a few months.

“It would be nice if we could get it done by the end of this year,” he said. “Fingers crossed!”

The project has been a good example of cross collaboration, and Lewis made sure to give a big thanks to the IT professionals and building tenants for their cooperation, as well as the fiber optic and network teams for their hard work.

“It’s a complicated undertaking,” he said. “And everyone involved has done a great job of prepping and knowing what needed to be done, and making it happen.”

Last Updated: 4/13/21