January 25, 2022

Next Gen Network

Imagine you’re on an open stretch of freeway with very little traffic. As more vehicles enter, the roadway seamlessly expands and improves with no construction, bottlenecks, slower speeds or road rage. That’s the comparative goal of networking and the Texas A&M University Division of Information Technology. 

“Part of our job is to make sure you don’t notice most network changes,” said Dan Schmiedt, Associate Vice President of Enterprise Networks. “The paradox of a well-run network is that it should be completely invisible and you should forget it’s even there.”

With over 5,200 acres comprising the main campus, the Division of IT currently has over 8,200 access points – devices that emit wireless signals – covering over 800 buildings and more than 19 million square feet of campus. The division adds new access points regularly to increase coverage, upgrade older equipment, and accommodate over 180,000 wired devices and more than 110,000 unique Wi-Fi users each day.

Since the network was built incrementally over the years and inherently contains some outdated equipment, Texas A&M is  preparing for the future with the design of the Next Generation Aggie Network.

 “When we talk about building a new network, there are questions as to if there is anything wrong with it now,” Schmiedt said. “Our team keeps it running well — we generally don’t have tons of outages, and the campus community is able to get things done. But it is imperative that we stay ahead of the game and ensure we have the infrastructure in place that never limits what our students, faculty and staff are trying to do.” 

Schmiedt explained that the new network will allow everyone on campus to use the same network hardware, ensuring everyone gets the same experience. Since the Next Generation Aggie Network is projected to take three years to complete, improvement continues on the existing network to expand the campus information freeways, keep information flowing without bottlenecks and remain proactive. Recently, the West Campus and Teague data centers upgraded uplinks from 40GB to 100GB.

“While campus members may not notice faster speeds after the upgrade, we’re being proactive since we’re seeing traffic upwards of 30GB,” Schmiedt says. “We must stay ahead of that. It’s really like the size of a pipe in that you don’t want to wait until the pipe is full; you must keep it bigger than what is flowing through it.” 

Rudolph Supak, Director of Information Networks at Texas A&M, agreed and said campus access points are also being upgraded and added. Fiber connections were upgraded in 36 buildings over the past year and added to six new locations.

Other proactive changes include improvements to Texas A&M’s Virtual Private Network (VPN). As usage remains high, bandwidth and security have increased.

Supak says the campus core is ready for the new network, but the number of access points will need to be doubled and equipment updated. The networking team is planning the major upgrades in phases that will allow for the least disruption to campus members.  

As the Next-Generation Network progresses, 5G will be added to add even more roadway.

“Many think 5G is a phone carrier thing, and it certainly is,” Schmiedt said.” “But Texas A&M University has the ability to operate its own 5G networks for larger outdoor coverage and other projects. We are currently working on a pilot project with Transportation Services to provide connectivity for the campus buses. They have a lot of video and other things running on the buses that cellular networks can’t keep up with, but a private 5G network can.”

Schmiedt, who has over 25 years of experience with campus networks, joined Texas A&M in 2021 to help build the Next Generation Network, an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.

“I’m really excited about this project, since Texas A&M’s core mission is to impart knowledge to students, faculty and staff,” he said. “Our job with networking is to deliver that information in the fastest, most seamless way and to keep those freeways open.”