KU adds new internet connection to help avoid another massive outage

photo by: Nick Krug

Students work within a computer lab at the School of Engineering on the campus of the University of Kansas, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

By placing a new fiber internet cable on campus, a University of Kansas official hopes KU can avoid another crippling internet outage like the one it suffered in 2016.

Mary Walsh, chief information officer for KU, told the Journal-World on Monday that the university recently installed a third fiber cable to campus to diversify the university’s internet connection redundancy, which allows the campus to still have access to the internet if one of the lines ever fails — a protection method referred to as “failover.”

“This effort was specifically to have a more diverse path into the university so we could have failover,” Walsh said. “If there were any other potential interruptions in our network, it could failover on a different path and we wouldn’t lose internet access.”

To place the new line, the university partnered with the City of Lawrence and KanREN, an organization offering internet services to Kansas universities and colleges. The city, which also uses the cable to provide a redundant internet connection, paid $123,000 for the installation, according to city documents. Walsh said KU paid $65,000 and KanREN paid $10,000 of the remaining costs.

The installation of the new line is a direct response to a “devastating” March 2016 incident, where a construction crew accidentally cut both of the university’s fiber internet cables and caused a massive internet outage, Walsh said.

The accidental cut shut down internet access all over KU’s main Lawrence campus as well as wireless internet at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park. Because connectivity to university servers was out, KU websites and applications such as Blackboard, which hosts online classes, also went down, as did state testing for thousands of K-12 students across more than a dozen states that rely on the KU-based Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

Although the campus had the two lines for connectivity, providing the necessary redundancy, they were placed near each other and were both cut during the construction project. Walsh said the new, third cable pathway is located on a different area on campus.

“Where we had redundancy before, it really wasn’t effective,” Walsh said. “In this particular case, we have a fully redundant network with different paths. So we won’t get into that pickle again.”

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