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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

ITS explains campus computing issues

<llege students spend more time online than with any other media. According to a 2007 survey by Burst Media, 19.6 percent of college students spend more than 20 hours per week on the internet alone.

The trend is no different at Carleton. Research projects, assignments, class registration — all of them depend heavily on computer access.

Given the importance of computers today, the internet is naturally an essential resource. In 1995, Carnegie Mellon University became the first American college campus to install wireless internet; by 2006, according to the Campus Computing Project, more than half of all college campuses had installed it.

This process is still ongoing at Carleton. While the college has had wireless coverage in academic buildings and in most common spaces in dorms for several years, the dorms were retrofitted for Wi-Fi very recently.

The project began after the construction of Memorial and Cassat — which were built to be conducive to wireless — and then spread to the rest of campus.

Wi-Fi wastelands
Among those dorms yet to be retrofitted are Evans Hall and Goodhue Hall, which have Ethernet outlets but very limited wireless coverage.

“Some buildings are easier to retrofit,” said Kendra Strode, a computing support specialist with Carleton’s Information and Technology Services. “Unfortunately, Evans and Goodhue are two of the trickier dorms.”

The reason lies behind the structure of the two buildings. The antennae used to direct internet service transmit in horizontal waves from the source — perfect for dorms constructed into floors. However, Evans is constructed in columns, with concrete walls separating the different columns, meaning the internet signal would not easily travel throughout the dorms.

“Even if we oriented the routers sideways, the stairwells would have the majority of the coverage,” Strode said. “The dorm rooms wouldn’t.”

This limitation also extends to Goodhue; while it is built in floors, the material of the building is not conducive to wireless internet service.

“Certain materials block wireless — think concrete or eco-friendly materials,” Strode said. “We’d have to blast signal from lots of locations,” Strode said, and even then the signal would be spotty or uneven.

However, this does not mean that students living in these two dorms are doomed to rely on Sayles or the Libe for internet. Even in dorms with full wireless service, “everybody gets one active Ethernet port,” said Strode. The College also has no objection to students who want to bring in their own wireless routers; in fact, ITS is “very happy to help” if students want to set them up. 

Life with no Wi-Fi
Students are split on the issue of Wi-Fi access.

“If I’m anywhere in Goodhue but the lounge or by the Ethernet jack, then I am disconnected,” said Alex Kasanovich ‘14, who lives in Goodhue. “It means I have to plan a lot more than I want to, where I’m going to do my work and whether the weather is worth a walk to a different building.”

However, for many other students, the issue is relatively minor.

“It’s inconvenient because you’re kind of confined to your desk, but it’s probably faster than a lot of wireless around campus, so [the lack of wireless internet] is generally not an issue,” said Maria Sterrett ’14, a resident of Evans. “Plus, it makes me work at my desk, so I’m probably more efficient anyway.”

In general, college students greatly prefer to have wireless access in order to complete their work. A 2008 survey by Wakefield Research and the Wi-Fi Alliance found that 90 percent of college students in the United States say that wireless internet access is as essential to education as classrooms and computers themselves.

A 2008 report by ABI Research predicted that by 2013, 99 percent of American universities and colleges will have wi-fi available, up from roughly 70 percent today.

Hub of activity

While wireless internet is important to student life, another technological element that is absolutely essential to a Carleton education is The Hub, the college’s official home for all student data and transactions. Although its design is less than elegant, the Hub performs critical student functions such as registering, paying tuition and entering work-study hour.

As Strode admitted, though, “it can be a little clunky at times.”

When asked about complaints regarding the Hub — namely, the propensity of the server to experience significant backup during busy times such as registration — Strode explained that the Hub’s efficiency generally depends on the complexity and load-student interactions.  Many of the functions of the Hub, such as registering for and waitlisting classes, are “significantly complex” actions, so when the Hub is busy, the load that the website faces is amplified.

It may be frustrating during events like room draw, but “any server is going to experience load if two thousand people are trying to access it,” said Strode. However, she did note that the College is working to update the Hub to a newer version, which may eliminate some of the kinks in the software and make the design slightly sleeker.

On the whole, the Carleton computer network is immensely complex, encompassing not only students, but also all prospective students, applicants and admitted students, staff and faculty and alumni.

Richard Goerwitz, Carleton’s Database Administrator and Data Warehouse Architect, explained that many students do not understand how complex the Carleton database actually is. In addition to basic academic and housing information, the Carleton servers also store student data from high school, graduate school and beyond, as well as a wealth of financial information, alumni and trustee records and faculty data, among other things.

Still, with research to do and papers to write, ITS understands that students take computing — and computing problems — seriously.

 “We’re open and eager to receive feedback about services students are curious about or frustrated by,” Strode said, adding ITS is “always looking for better ways to open up communication with the student body.”   

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