Editorís Note: Improvements in
computer technology follow Mooreís Law, which states that computiong power doubles
every eighteen months. Proactive planning can substantially reduce upgrade cost.
Increasing use of video and multimedia is saturating available bandwidth on
network routers, switches and wiring. Improved connectors enable fiber optic
networks to be installed for about the same price as Category 6 copper. This
greatly extends the useful life of the network and at the same time improves
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has a strong tradition
of academic excellence. Ranked third in the Midwest in the best public regional
universities category by U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges,
the university attracts students from around the country and serves the needs
of its 10,500 undergraduate and graduate students in an attractive learning
environment 90 miles east of St. Paul/Minneapolis.
The faculty and staff at UW-Eau Claire work hard to ensure
that capital investments deliver long-term benefits. When the Universityís College
of Business sought a way to future-proof the new state-of-the-art Cargill Technology
Center for collaborative and video applications, networking experts recommended
an advanced fiber optic cabling system.
Permanent Cabling System for UW-Eau Claire College of Business
The UW-Eau Claire College of Business prides itself in the
fact that it students are in demand -- 92 percent of its graduates find jobs
in their major area of interest. The AACSB accredited business college positions
its 2,000 students for success in the business world by focusing its curriculum
on the competencies employers demand in their employees: the ability to think
and problem solve cross-functionally, to use technology for competitive advantage,
to effectively communicate thoughts and ideas orally and in writing, and to
work productively in teams.
One way UW-Eau Claire business students hone problem-solving and decision-making
skills is in the Cargill Technology Center, a new conference-style environment
where teamwork and communication skill development is supported by the latest
technologies. The Center hosts both groupware (Ventana GroupSystems,
Lotus Notes) and application development tools (Oracle 2000, Visual
Basic and Computer Assisted Systems Engineering --CASE). Business
students use the Center for such activities as strategic planning, collaborative
writing, survey design and focus group research, and systems development.
Students use the collaborative suite of software on any of
the labís 24 450Mhz. IBM Intellistation PCs, which run Windows NT and 15-inch
active-matrix displays. Asynchronous transfer mode network adapters from Fore
Systems, Inc. link each PC to the Volition fiber optic LAN from 3M.
The Cargill Technology Centerís advanced technical capabilities
stemmed from several years of effort and fund raising by the College of Business.
We wanted to future-proof the business collegeís lab. We knew there would not
be another chance to build a new lab for five years and wanted to do this right.
I was concerned about buying the right cabling system. We
spend a lot of money on copper and are constantly upgrading copper. Itís expensive.
We wanted something with a life longer than two years. Thatís why UW-Eau Claire
turned to fiber-to-the-desktop.
Networking Staffís Previous Experience with Fiber-to-the-Desktop
My department had previous positive experience using optical
fiber. UW-Eau Claire connects all campus buildings with an asynchronous transfer
mode (ATM)-based OC-12 fiber backbone and Cisco Systems, Inc. electronics. The
1,200 faculty and staff in those 20 buildings tap into a central farm of about
25 servers, as do student lab users. Most servers run Microsoft Corp. Windows
NT. A few servers use IBM Corp. AIX, Linux or Control Data Corp.ís mail hub
software. Eventually, UW-Eau Claire plans to simplify systems and application
management by phasing out several servers to just a few powerful Alpha-based
servers with disk subsystems. According to staff, about 70% of the Universityís
servers have direct ATM OC-3 connections,.
To meet the requirements of running switched Fast Ethernet,
UW-Eau Claire has used Enhanced Category 5 copper wiring since the summer of
1997. But even that medium is starting to run out of gas. Some faculty in the
science building were leery about using copper, so about 40 now have traditional
fiber-to-the-desktop connections, along with 16 Silicon Graphics, Inc. lab workstations.
My team recommended fiber-to-the-desktop in Spring 1998 during
initial discussions about future-proofing the Cargill Technology Center. We
felt comfortable suggesting fiber after lab organizers mentioned using video
and multimedia applications. We gave the lab people every opportunity to try
something else, but the committee stuck with the fiber-to-the-desktop recommendation.
Fiber-to-the-Desktop Cost Less than Alternative Cabling Systems
The networking staff investigated new offerings in fiber-to-the-desktop, looked
into the VolitionTM system from 3M and invited
a reseller to present a quote. The biggest issue, in my view, was the cost of
using optical fiber. As long as the money added up right, using fiber-to-the-desktop
with Volition was not a big risk.
The quotation included the cost of wiring media, outlets,
wallplates, backboxes, passive port panels and jacks, patch cords and labor
cost of installation. Volition system cost UW-Eau Claire 25% less than using
fiber-to-the-desktop with standard fiber connectors, and 6% less than using
Category 6 unshielded twisted-pair copper wiring. Based on these numbers, the
University chose to install the Volition system.
In addition to its lower price, the Volition system provides
UW-Eau Claire with substantially more benefits compared to high-speed copper
wiring. It offers nearly unlimited bandwidth and transmits data over longer
distances. Copper is limited to 100 meters from a wiring closet, while Volition
fiber easily transmits 100 megabits per second up to 2,000 meters. This extra
distance allows UW-Eau Claire to fully implement its centralized wiring infrastructure
for data networking. By locating active networking electronics in a central
location, the University further cuts the cost of maintaining its network and
Finally, installing Volition fiber was much easier than using
traditional fiber connectors. UW-Eau Claire finished the two-week installation
process in December 1998. We used the same person who pulled our 12-strand fiber
terminated on an ST patch panel. The installer said using Volition was much
Fiber System Improves Performance
With the Volition system, people using the new Cargill Technology
Center have noticed a marked improvement in network and application performance.
For example, timed transfers of a 117-megabyte file on non-fiber Fast Ethernet
LANs averages 30-40 seconds. In the Volition system lab, the same transfer takes
12 seconds -- roughly three times faster.
The Volition system will provide UW-Eau Claire with cost-effective,
high-speed LAN connections that will last for years to come. The University
updates one or more of its labs every summer and this fiber system will be a
strong contender for those network upgrades. Iíve installed and thrown away
enough copper cabling over the years, so if putting in fiber will last, weíll
look very seriously at that.
Update: The Cargill Technology Center is being remodeled
in the summer of 2002 and will support both CAT5 copper and Volition fiber to
the desktop. A second lab, the Cargill Telecommunications Lab completed in the
summer of 2000, was cabled with both CAT5 cable and Volition fiber to the desktop.
For more information contact 3M Telecom Systems Division,
3M Austin Center, Building A130-5N-07, 6801 River Place Blvd, Austin, TX 78726.
Phone: 800-695-0447. Internet: www.3m.com/volition
About the Author
Phil Staff, BBA/MBA/CDP, Information Systems Specialist,
has been employed at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1970. Mr.
Staff is experienced in mainframe applications development, campus-wide email
systems, centralized servers, structured wiring and network electronics.