Connect This

By: Sam Laughlin



At some point in mid-January, USD law students filed back into classes, dreamily displacing themselves back to their winter-break vacations that, of course, were too short. As their new semester professors droned on and on (and on), the students eased into the comfortable position most law students take in class: logging into the internet to either Facebook or read emails.

And then it happened. Without warning- students could no longer connect to the internet. Gone was GChat. Gone was Pintrest. Instead, students had to actually… pay attention. Truly, the world was ending.

While this overly dramatic and facetious story may seem groan-worthy to many USD faculty and staff, the reality is that this semester, connecting to the internet at USD became a nightmare. Students who, in earnest, worked on Lexis and Westlaw to finish research papers or students filing out comprehensive applications for summer employment found their computers constantly booted off the network?

What gives, and is there a solution?

The easy answers: we don’t know and maybe.

First, one problem is the different wireless networks: USD and USDSECURE. USDSECURE is designed as the main wireless network, while “USD” is intended more as a back-up. “That is how we designed it,” said Douglas Burke, director of USD’s Network Infrastructure Systems and Services. “USD will kick you off after six minutes of inactivity. Just like your computer falling asleep, this is how the USD network handles itself.” USDSECURE does not have such a feature as the main network for the school, indented to handle the heavy-load of the entire student body.

Students around the law school report that USDSECURE fails to work- but one possible solution exists. Students should re-download the USDSECURE supplicant, which may be found following the directions here: I can speak personally that this procedure partially cured my ability to connect to USDSECURE, and USD ITS recommends all students do the same. However, USDSECURE carries its own problems that, as of this writing, continue to be investigated.

The real problem, according to Christopher Wessells, the Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer of USD’s ITS, is lack of reporting. “Students need to contact the HelpDesk [ITS’s network help services],” he explained. And, apparently, law students notoriously grumble about their problems to each other, and never report actual problem to ITS, as only a few official tickets have been filed. “We don’t know if there’s a problem if no one reports it to us,” he said. “The ITS Help Desk logs and responds to all reported IT problems. However when multiple complaints are logged for a widespread problem, then a response is escalated – if it’s a big problem, we need everyone to report it.”

While the exact source of the problem remains elusive, one thing is clear: these problems started in mid-January. Around the same time, USD installed new controllers to the school’s wireless infrastructure- though the only substantive difference laid in the controller’s code, and even that was minor. Some issues involving Apple Mac’s connectivity were reported at the time, but no issues for PC’s were detected.

Likewise, this is not likely an issue secluded only to the law school. The entire USD campus works off the same architecture, including the apartments across Linda Vista, which receive everything from cable TV to phones to internet all from a series of microwaves and lasers beamed from the main campus. “We can’t use cables to reach across the street,” said Director Burke. “So we use lasers.” The wired-network around campus likewise depends on the wireless network, not the other way around. If there is a problem with the wireless, it affects everyone, and ITS is committed to fixing it.

“Students shouldn’t be annoyed by the network – they should always be connected and it should meet their needs,” said Mr. Wessells. Peculiar problems have occurred with the network and the law school in the past, such as an issue with ExamSoft several years ago. “People were unable to upload their exam files during exams,” said Director Burke. “It was a huge problem. Turns out it was caused by interference from a microwave oven somewhere in the law school.” ITS promptly fixed the issue. No microwave ovens were hurt in the process.

USD presently runs the fastest wifi technology possibly available, using IEEE 802.11n network standards. “We are constantly pushing the envelope,” explained Mr. Wessells. USD handles 8,000 connections a day with over 13,000 MAC addresses stored total. “Running the network is a stress test, every day,” said Director Burke. “But it works.”

In fact, as Mr. Wessells explained, the school is about to upgrade to IEEE 802.11ac in the Fall/Winter of 2013, the latest step in network speed. “Very few universities in the world are making this step,” he said. “This is going to make USD among one of the fastest wireless campuses on the planet.” This upgrade is scheduled to occur sometime next year.

In the meantime, students are recommended to download the secure connect software again. If this does not solve their issues, please contact the HelpDesk by emailing or calling the HelpDesk at (619) 260-7900.


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