Advanced Fiber/Copper Network Enriches University of Victoria

The University of Victoria's new $25+ million Engineering Laboratory Wing boasts one of the most advanced computer networking infrastructures in North America. Dedicated in October of 1995, it offers both optical fiber and Category 5 twisted pair outlets to about 1,500 work positions. Costs of the networking infrastructure fiber and copper amounted to $1.5 million Canadian. AMP Inc., of Harrisburg, Pa., and its supplier devoted two weeks exclusively to producing the half million feet of dual-fiber cable for the project.

A Fiber Optic Future?

The Engineering Laboratory Wing consolidates the Mechanical, Electrical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science labs under one roof. It connects physically with the nearby Engineering Office building via a pedestrian bridge. Currently the buildings serve about 60 professors, 230 post graduates, and about 750 undergraduate students. In addition, the building contains spaces such as study and common areas plus offices for graduate students. One lab, on the roof, serves for engineering teaching and research on wireless communication. The building has a dual fiber/copper telecommunications cabling infrastructure, built on a fiber optic backbone. It provides one dual optical fiber port and one or two Category 5 data/voice ports (copper) to virtually all work and study area positions.

According to George Csanyi-Fritz, of the engineering faculty, the university installed AMP Category 5 copper systems to accommodate a large contingent of existing Ethernet networking equipment. But he expects networking applications to shift toward fiber in the future.

"We've planned the building's telecommunications infrastructure to last 15 to 20 years into the future," says Csanyi-Fritz. "While only a small percentage of the fiber-to-the-desk drops are now in use, we expect fiber-based applications to rise quickly. Fiber offers us the capability to handle very high-speed computer communications, required for multimedia, CAD/CAM, distributed computing, and other bandwidth-intensive computer and engineering applications. It's also immune to electromagnetic interference, which is a concern in a building like this that contains heavy-duty electrical equipment." Csanyi-Fritz says that the university has centralized all the fiber interconnections in one main communications room. "We expect this arrangement to greatly simplify managing, rearranging, and moving work stations on the fiber portions of the network."

Doing It All

When asked in what ways the network is being utilized, Csanyi-Fritz confidently replies, "You name it, we are doing it." Java, C/C++, Pascal and Netscape are just a few of the applications that are integrated into the network. From submitting resum's online, to electronic newsfeeds, to miscellaneous co-op programs, students at the University of Victoria are on the cutting edge of computing in education. The way students learn lab procedures and instructions is also quite interesting. "All of our lab manuals are online," says Csanyi-Fritz. This ensures rapid updating of outdated information. In an environment where information moves at 1.8 GB /sec, and software updates seem to arrive even more rapidly, this is a practical decision.

One-Room Communications Hub

The main communications room for the new wing centralizes all of the optical fiber interconnections in one place, simplifying network management and maintenance and minimizing costs of electronics. Optical cables to and from this room run directly to the 1500 work positions in user areas. The room, measuring about 20 x 8 ft., is completely packed with equipment. Each dual-fiber cable g'es from the main communications room all the way to each work station in one continuous length, without splices or interconnects. "Fiber d'esn't have the same limitations on length as copper," says Nick Fenger, consulting electronic engineer for the project. "Some of the passive fiber lines run 200 meters or more. We know they could run up to a kilometer in length before signals would start to degrade."

Looking Ahead

"We currently have about 700 computers on the network, so 800 or so drops are left," says Csanyi-Fritz, signifying that the lab is by no means running close to its capacity. "We have a 3.4 GB throughput and we are currently using about 1.8 GB, so we have some room to grow," he says.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.