BY JUSTIN TONEY
For the first week that junior Ben Smith and his roommate tried to log on to their online gaming accounts, the University of Mary Washington’s network security blocked the connection. “My roommate and I threw a hissy fit,” said Smith.
He and his roommate are only two of many UMW gamers who have had difficulty accessing online videogames through the University network this year, whether they be for personal computers or otherwise.
Many recent console game systems enable online gaming, and encourage such gaming through sometimes exclusively online games. However, these systems are sometimes disallowed by the network, or else have trouble functioning while connected.
Owners of systems such as the Xbox 360 experience problems when high network traffic reduces available bandwidth set aside for peer to peer information exchange– a high bandwidth consuming connection that enables multiplayer games over the Internet.
Smith had difficulty accessing the network and finding enough available bandwidth for his online gaming early in the semester, but his problems were resolved after going to the Technology Help Desk.
Playstation 3 owners, especially, have difficulty logging onto the internet through their consoles.
Joe Haynes, Director of Networks and Communication Services, says that the problem with the PS3 can only be solved case-by-case by contacting the Help Desk. “If there’s anything we can do to make things work, we will,” said Haynes, “We can’t let games monopolize the network of course, but we’ll do what we can to make them work.”
Vice President for Information Resources and Chief Information Officer, Chip German, explained that managing network bandwidth is a difficult process for the UMW’s Internet Technology departments. German and his subsidiary departments have to, “balance the residence hall networks against the regular academic community networks.”
“A few years ago, nobody was looking at YouTube videos on the network. Now everybody’s looking at YouTube videos on the network, so there’s a lot of issue about trying to conserve bandwidth for the stuff that’s academic,” said German.
Problems have arisen in the past where individual network users were responsible for the consumption of a fifth of the network’s allotted bandwidth. Such instances, though rare, are usually the fault of large-scale file sharing or gaming, and cause great inconvenience for other network users.
Right now, UMW secures 10 megabits per second of its total bandwidth (45 mb/s) exclusively for its academic networks. The remainder is given to the residence hall networks, which have placed increasingly high demands upon the University’s bandwidth.
According to the UMW website, “managing networks for broader life
purposes, including entertainment, is not an area of core competence for higher education IT organizations.”
Though Smith understands the importance of the network hierarchy, he still feels that the University should better serve student Internet uses. “While we’re here, we’re living here,” said Smith. “I know we’re full-time students, but we could just as well be full-time employees and still live somewhere that provides entertainment.”
In response to issues like these, Internet Technologies for UMW may eventually outsource the handling of residence hall internet service to corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
German, Haynes and other IT staff are currently of drafting a proposal to the VA legislature, asking for permission to request bids from commercial providers.
“I could see the problem coming in terms of we weren’t going to have enough bandwidth to satisfy student demand,” said German who began investigating the possibility of out-sourcing to corporate ISPs in October 2006.
Haynes said that under corporate out-sourcing students would be provided a “base level” of bandwidth comparable to what they would receive off campus. Residents would then have the option to purchase personal bandwidth in addition to the service provided to all users.
“Based on what I can tell, the general pattern of bandwidth usage in most places is that most people don’t really need extra bandwidth,” said Haynes, “but a small a percentage of people want a lot more bandwidth than you can give them…“
“There will be an avenue of release for people who need more bandwidth. We’re not a business, so we can’t charge back, and it’s difficult to provide more and more bandwidth for the few people who want it.”
German said that the change would not affect the cost of Internet service to students, nor decrease the quality. “It has to be better than what they can get right now from us, and we’re now in a commercial environment where that’s possible,” he said.
Any corporate ISP will be able to bid for the position, and only the company that can provide service according to UMW standards will be selected. “It’s not always the lowest bidder,” said Haynes.
The University currently buys its Internet connection from NetworkVirginia at $53,000 per year through state funding and student tuition.