Wi-FI issues? Find out what happens behind the scenes
Wi-Fi and its modern uses are the single force that connects the individual to the outside world, facilitating a space where users can interact, collaborate, educate, and explore all sorts of different subjects and dominions. Every day at Stevenson, hundreds of students, residents, and teachers use their devices to access important information and resources that guide school life, but often the complex mechanics of our technology get overlooked. At the epicenter of our school, the tech center provides members of the Stevenson community with user-friendly and safe connectivity, but the difficult task of maintaining these servers and troubleshooting school-wide issues on a daily basis often goes unacknowledged. In light of recent network issues, the Tech Center has been working to ensure that students have access to the internet.
The director of technology operations and manager of KSPB, Jeff Barrett, explains some of the main functions of the Tech Center in broad terms: “This is what we call the MDF or the main distribution frame, and then you have the individual IDFs or intermediate distribution centers in various buildings and such. There's fiber optic cable that runs underground through the campus, even all the way up to the football field, that comes back here, so this is the main hub.” He then goes on to explain the various core switches that support connections throughout campus, along with cameras and speakers that are currently being installed.
Although many of these terms sound like they are in a foreign language to the everyday user, they are critical to the operation of Stevenson school. To understand the inner workings of school Wi-Fi, it is important to identify the differences between IDFs, and MDFs.
The main distribution center is the primary hub for Stevenson routers that connects the intermediate distribution centers, a sub-system that connects networks around campus. From the Tech Center, tech center personnel are able to monitor what the various access points are doing and who is connected to them. Regarding recent connectivity issues that students and staff were experiencing, Barrett responds, “We were working with a vendor about another issue, and somehow something that wasn't supposed to happen happened, and an entire server cluster went offline. In that cluster was the network authentication for the Wi-Fi network, the ones that prompt you for a username. The authentication went away, so that's why we put up a temporary one so Meraki could authenticate it without relying on the back end system to do that, which was the password in the email that was sent out.”
Although it is common to experience Wi-Fi lags or connectivity issues, it is a misconception that changing the network on a device will improve the connection. In fact, when a user connected to the RLS student Wi-Fi changes to guest or resident, they are doing more harm than good for both their wireless internet and the server itself. Barrett explains, “While it [RLS Guest] is designed for guests, the issue is once you add it to your device, it's very assertive. Of course, you can’t print from Guest because we don't want guests to access our printers or other things on our network, so it's very isolated. Even a resident is really there to accommodate a PlayStation in your dorm room, so you really shouldn't put your laptop on it.”
Wi-Fi in the dorms is designed to support gaming infrastructures, not personal devices, and additionally, connecting your device to a network other than RLS Students can restrict your access to certain features of the network. If you are experiencing continuous issues, the Tech Center encourages students to check that they are on the correct network and also account for dead spots on campus. Barrett advises, “RLS student is almost everywhere… it's not in Douglas hall by design. Think about Douglas hall, what the president's hall is, and what path that is next to. What was happening is there were so many drive-bys like everyone was carrying their phones, and the overstimulation of the access points was interfering with the performance there.” On-campus tech support is continuously working to help students who are encountering tech-related issues, and the faculty at the tech center implores students to drop by if they are experiencing ongoing issues with their network connectivity or personal device.