April 23, 1999

Increased reliability goal of modem service changes

Upcoming changes in the VUaccess dial-in modem service will provide greater reliability, but a long-term solution to the increasingly crowded service rests with individual users, said Dr. William W. Stead, associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and University Information Architect.

Vanderbilt currently provides 288 telephone modem lines for faculty, staff and off-campus students to gain access to the University's computer network. With the explosive growth of home and portable computing in recent years, the system almost constantly is at, or near, capacity, resulting in lengthy delays for people who want to connect to the Vanderbilt network to check e- mail, download files or use the surf the Internet.

The proposed technical and policy changes should improve service and preserve access for off-campus students and other users. At the same time, faculty and staff members may choose to obtain their own Internet service providers as the VUaccess system reaches capacity.

Effective May 17, the following changes in service will take effect:

o A maximum connect time of two hours will replace the current mixture of one-hour and four-hour service, except in off- peak hours between midnight and 6 a.m., during which sessions up to four hours are allowed.

o A bank of 96 modems will be available only to students calling from off-campus. Faculty and staff will not be able to log in on these lines.

o All modems will be upgraded to 56 kbps service – the fastest possible speed available to standard telephone lines.

o VUaccess circuits will bypass the Vanderbilt Telecommunications system, thus insulating the voice telephone network from possible interference from heavy modem usage.

VUaccess staff will monitor use, problems, and user feedback and "tune the rules" to get maximum benefit out of this limited resource, Stead said.

"Developing and maintaining a networked environment is clearly one of our highest information technology priorities," Stead said.

"At the same time, we also have to acknowledge that Internet service from the home has become as essential to our lives as telephone service, and that it is neither economically nor logistically feasible for the University to continue adding modem lines to meet an insatiable demand."

In only three years, daily use of the VUaccess service has increased from less than 500 hours to more than 5,000 hours. The gap between the actual connect time, the amount of time people spend using VUaccess, and the estimated desired connect time has widened from an estimated 100 hours a day in August to some 1,800 hours a day in February.

During this period, computer use has also placed a heavy burden on the University's voice telephone network. On Jan. 6, when snow and ice in Nashville caused many faculty and staff to work from home, the Vanderbilt telephone network actually suffered crippling congestion from the volume of callers to the VUaccess system.

"It is essential that we protect student access to the network," said Larry Frederick, director of Academic Computing and Information Services (ACIS), which manages VUaccess. "By making these technical and policy changes, and by encouraging faculty and staff to seek their own service that is tailored to individual needs, we can make a more efficient use of our limited resources."

The Nashville area has more than a dozen Internet service providers (ISP) with costs ranging from nothing to $35 per month, depending on the level and speed of service. A special arrangement with Intermedia's @Home service allows Vanderbilt employees to get the high-speed cable modem service, which offers speeds up to 100 times greater than standard telephone modems, at a substantially reduced rate.

The new dial-in policies and services are the result of a collaborative review process which included ACIS, Vanderbilt Telecommunications, faculty, staff and student representatives.

ACIS has created a Web site at www.vanderbilt.edu/ispinfo, to provide further information as well as assistance on choosing an ISP and configuring the service for access to Vanderbilt's network.