There are 38,000 of them. They aren’t employees, so you can’t dictate what they use in terms of computing hardware and software. They’re demanding, because they have grown up in the web age, and they expect to be connected where ever they are (even on remote islands and farms).
So what do you do with all these people, who want to connect with everything from an iPhone to a MacBook Pro? If you’re the University of Queensland, you take a deep breath, and install a multi-million dollar network with around 70,000 ports (offering 1gigabit per second to the desktop) and 4000 Cisco 802.11n wireless access points.
You also install access points on ferries running up and down the Brisbane River – because the University has its own ferry wharf – as well as microwave links from Gladstone for islands in the Great Barrier Reef. There’s a massive farm, too, for the veterinary students, which uses a mesh system to offer connectivity.
Oh, and while you’re at it, there are five or six (who’s counting) super-computers on campus, as well as a grid super-computer constructed from spare cycles in the University’s several thousand terminal-strong computer labs. And then there’s the need to exchange data with other universities, as well as the massive data packages that come from the synchrotron in Melbourne, located on the site of an old cinema complex.
“All this drives complexity,” says Nick Tate, director of IT at the University of Queensland. “Both technical complexity and geographical complexity. We have around 45 sites scattered across Queensland, all of which need to be connected.” “We need to support the teaching experience, support high end research, and support the student experience,” he said.