Behind the Scenes with UBC IT's Network Team

By Chantal Moore

This month marks the start of our #readyforcampusreturn series, which sheds light on the incredible IT teams who are working behind the scenes to support UBC's transition back to campus. Thank you to our amazing staff, who are adapting to meet UBC's connectivity needs as we prepare to welcome everyone back this fall.

Q&A with UBC IT's Network and Infrastructure team

Part two of our #readyforcampusreturn series is a Q&A with Eric Bourdon, Senior Manager and Gary Olson, Cable Installation & Repair Serviceperson, both with UBC IT’s Network and Infrastructure team.

Could you tell us about how your team is ramping up services to anticipate more students on campus?

Eric: It’s on a number of fronts really. Heading into September, we are going to have more of a presence on campus and that will enable us to respond to community requests that come up – a big part of that is in our student residences, what we call our ResNet network. We not only have a new residence coming online, the a tə šxʷhəleləm̓s tə k̓ʷaƛ̓kʷəʔaʔɬ Residence, but we have many existing student residences that were unoccupied for the last year. With more than 11,000 students returning for the first time in more than a year, we are anticipating a lot of support needs and requests.

The other area we are focusing on is enhancing wireless networking throughout the campus. We are bolstering about 30 key buildings and we are enhancing them, not only with increased density of wireless coverage but better, upgraded coverage.

As well, a frequent request from students is for outdoor wireless coverage, so we are working on bolstering that in anticipation of September. Outdoor wireless is a challenge, but we have a significant area of campus covered by wireless right now and that will be increased in the next couple weeks.

One other thing I should note is that we are continuing our Alibaba service for overseas students to learn remotely. The service went live in September 2020 and we’re up to around 1400 unique student connections per day.

Great, expanded outdoor wireless coverage will also benefit staff or faculty who wish to take their work outdoors. What are some of the others projects you’ve been working on in anticipation of fall?

Eric: We’ve done a lot of – I don’t want to say invisible – but backend, less noticeable enhancements to the network, increasing what we call our core network, the underlying network that students, faculty and staff use. Some of these core network enhancements include campus router upgrades, increases to 40 gigabits capability, the University Data Centre research network upgrade, improved core network redundancy, complete network architecture for Amazon Web Service (AWS), Workday network monitoring, enhancements to the MedITAV network, and more. We are also enhancing our connectivity to UBC’s remote sites such as the Dairy Centre, the John M.S. Lecky Boathouse, and the Learning Exchange.

Along with this, we’ve made many security enhancements to the network from security monitoring capabilities to identifying and rectifying potential network vulnerabilities. One area that is key is the network technology allowing departments and faculties to run their own firewall instance off of our core network. We’ve increased the capacity and technology for these. Our Connectivity Infrastructure Team is constantly increasing to accommodate campus projects, new building construction and renovation projects.

Finally, we continually run a program at the University to upgrade networking in buildings every six to seven years. There are roughly 400 buildings on campus so it’s a never-ending project. We’ve upgraded approximately 20 buildings over the past year.

Nice, that’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate bridge then right? You start at one end and go to the next.

Eric: Yes, exactly. You paint it at one end, then finish it and keep going. That’s what we are doing with the many individual building networks. It’s a continuous program we’ve been running for 15 years in order to ensure the University never falls behind in building network technology.

The network is really the lifeblood of many of our operations. You really only notice issues when the network is down.

Eric: And is it ever noticed then!

Gary: For me, I used this past year as an opportunity to do upgrades. When the students were off campus, like Eric was saying, I upgraded wireless through the student residences, St. John’s, Ritsumeikan, and Green College. I managed to get them new equipment for the new school year. Usually the beginning of the Winter Term is when I get blitzed with student networking issues, so now there is less worry come the fall.

Eric: Gary raises a good point there that I missed. This whole pandemic presented an opportunity for our team to have a blank slate (not that we did whatever we wanted) to work on the network. The past year allowed us to upgrade networks in buildings like Gary was referring to, whether it was wireless or the core network. There were opportunities we probably wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the pandemic and the campus being much less populated.

This has been great, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. Having worked with you, we know you are foundational to everything we do on campus.

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