Case study: Auckland Uni fills ATM pipe

When Auckland University opened the Tamaki campus in the suburb of Glen Innes, it not only faced the problem of bussing students between sites but also of transporting data and voice traffic.

Students still have to take the bus but with the launch of Clear Communication's public ATM network in February, the university found a much faster way to pump information from one campus to another.

Auckland University is the first, and so far only, customer to sign up for the 34Mbit/s ATM service.

"We just had to do it," says university information technology systems and services (ITSS) registrar Phil Venville.

"The alternatives were to put fibre in the ground ourselves or get another microwave link. We've been looking for a sensible solution for some time and the cost analysis for the ATM link gives us a payback within two-and-a-half years.

Currently, the ATM pipe transfers data, and in a couple of months, telephone traffic will be added, freeing up the microwave link for other systems. Venville says ultimately the link will evolve into an ATM backbone transporting video as well as voice and data.

"The first thing is to solve this immediate problem, but the long-term strategic goal is to simplify the network.

"We are working toward a campus-wide, managed communications structure that will handle voice, data and video and will be available to all university members.

"A single network will be much easier to manage. Providing network services around a city campus is difficult because it's hard to get cabling from building to building and up into buildings. On the new campus it's easier because it was designed to be networked."

Venville says ATM's ability to work on the LAN as well as the WAN is an added bonus but there are no immediate plans to use ATM to the desktop.

Even with data traffic only, the ATM link is saving the university from having to duplicate servers and databases at each campus.

Currently, the commerce faculty has to duplicate servers and course material set up for teaching systems design and programming at both sites.

The university's head of technology development and special projects, Dr. Nevil Brownlee, says the installation of a satellite station at the Tamaki campus has also pushed demand for ATM.

The station picks up television broadcasts around the world, tapes them on to video, distributing it to various faculties. This service is particularly popular with language and politics departments, which may request a Russian news broadcast, coverage of the US elections or a documentary in Japanese.

Brownlee says now that there is a network link capable of handling video, the plan is to digitise the programmes and store them on a video server for distribution on demand. Two Silicon Graphics Challenge servers have been installed at each campus for this purpose.

He says that because the bandwidth has not been available in the past, there are not a lot of applications around to take advantage of it.

"It's a chicken-and-egg thing. People didn't bother because there wasn't enough bandwidth. We now have to make people aware of the possibilities, but pretty soon 34Mbit/s won't be enough."

The geography department is seeing immediate benefits from the link, which enables staff and students using geographical information systems (GIS) to send hefty files of 120Mb or more between campuses.

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