Top of the Class in Campus Networking

Abridged from CI&M, July 2010; Article by Carol Everett Oliver, RCDD, ESS

The new Aquia Building at GMU George Mason University, which started as a brand of the University of VA in 1957 but became independent in 1972 is now the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2008 the U.S. News and World Report credited Mason as the number one up and coming university, primarily due to the ongoing structural transformation and innovations. 
The new Aquia Building is a 3-story, 50,000 square-foot building, of which half is allocated for ITU, including 8,000 square-feet for the new GMU data center.
At the top of the university’s plans and advancement policies has been its leadership’s determination to stay on top of the data and telecommunications evolutionary movement. “One of the biggest attributes is that Mason recognized back in the early 80’s that Networking and Technology Systems should be its own separate entity and not fall under Facilities,” states John Hanks, Advisory Network Engineer, Network Engineering and Technology for the Technology Systems Division (TSD), Information Technology Unit (ITU). Mason jumped on the fast track of network improvement, much to the credit of Hanks, who has been with the ITU division since 1981 and who has overseen the many changes and upgrades.
Milestones for the ITU division includes:
  • Early 80’s – introduced Ethernet network through a campus broadband system terminated in their computer room which became their first data center.
  • 1987 -- The first implementation of the Internet over SURAnet -- Southeastern Universities Research Association -- 10BASE2 and 10BASE5 connections to the Science and Tech buildings from Thompson Hall.
  • 1991 – Installation of a Token Ring over a fiber system to connect some of the Fairfax campus buildings. 
  • 1993 -- the ITU division presented a proposal to totally revamp their cabling systems – both backbone and horizontal – to incorporate a standardized structured cabling system designed and installed according to the newly developed TIA/EIA-568 standards.
  • By 2001, they had formulated their own cabling standards, paralleling industry standards, which included a warranted NetClear® standard GT2 cabling solution from Berk-Tek and Legrand|Ortronics for the horizontal runs from the TR’s to the device outlets. This system incorporates Berk-Tek’s LANmark™-1000 enhanced Category 6 cable for data and voice applications. 
  • 2009 – an  upgrade to NetClear GT3 for the campus standard that utilizes an even higher grade of Category 6 – Berk-Tek’s LANmark-2000, which performs beyond the standards. 
Cable Termination  To alleviate overcrowding the cabinets and racks with the 250 copper connections of Berk-Tek’s LANmark-2000 enhanced Category cable between the LAN/WAN and servers, the cable is run throgh the overhead pathway rack system from Legrand | Ortronics, which includes overhead patch panels. 
“The real differentiator is the NetClear warranty that includes a channel performance better than the TIA standards. This sets the bar high and becomes gold to us. With all the construction, moves, adds and changes, the 25-year NetClear warranty on all our copper and fiber not only assures a quality product for years to come, but also guarantees the workmanship due the required certification training of the installers,” explains David Bellinghoven, Manager of Network Infrastructure for TSD Network Engineering and Technology ITU.   
The focal point in the last decade has been on the design and construction of the new 50,000 square foot building, known as the Aquia Building. This building allocates 25,000 square-feet for ITU, including 8,000 square-feet for a new University Data Center to allow for growth for the next 30 years. With a budget of $22 million (almost twice that of the entire infrastructure budget from the 90’s), the three-story facility was built to house the data center and to provide an additional 25,000 square-feet of swing space.  The data center includes four sections – an enterprise LAN/ WAN system; a server support area; dedicated system services specifically for research; and a “co-lo” area to support other departments within the campus via the other four communication cores.
ITU Group at GMUGeorge Mason University Infrastructure Team (L to R): John Hanks, Michael Mauck, Greg Luce, Andrew Witham and David Bellinghoven
In addition to Hanks, Bellinghoven and the ITU department, the design and installation team includes:Renee Skafte, the Berk-Tek and Legrand manufacturers’ rep with Network Products, Inc.; Whiting Turner as the general contractor who awarded the cabling contract to Bob Hanson of Vision Technologies who headed up the structured cabling teams – both inside and outside plant; and Rick Castiglia, RCCD, president of New Century in charge of installing the campus’ OSP cabling.
“This data center is set to propel us forward and to maintain the growth we continue to experience,” states Hanks. “In my 30 years here I’ve seen this campus evolve from a mainframe environment, to a distributed network, back to a mainframe-type with the data center as its core,” he observes. “With our solid NetClear infrastructure and standards in place, we are assured that we’ve done things right and in the process built a foundation for things to come,” he adds.

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Carol Oliver Berk-Tek Marketing Analyst