An Eye for Detail: Inside Network Operations
Down to the finest detail, University Information Technology Services' (UITS) Network Operations is an area that that leaves no stone unturned during its pre-planning. And it has to; as the implementation arm of Network Operations and Services, Network Operations is responsible for the cabling, jack installation and phone work found throughout the University. They’re intimately involved in the planning and play a key role in the execution of large University construction projects to ensure that buildings have connectivity and that office and classroom spaces are functional from a technology perspective.
“Network Operations encompasses a lot of moving parts, “said Jeff Lange, Network Operations and Services. “We plan diligently and work with numerous stakeholders to see a project through successfully. I work with a very talented and creative group of people, and you have to be. The challenges that crop up project to project force you to think creatively and outside-the-box.”
When the University begins a new construction project, whether building a new facility from scratch or refurbishing an existing structure (e.g., the former Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Complex becoming the UWM Northwest Quadrant), Network Operations is working in close concert with the architects, contractors and University staff to ensure that the building is being thought out to accommodate network and telephone connectivity. Network Operations assists and ensures that cable patterns, fiber optics and communications rooms are positioned correctly and function efficiently.
“There’s a lot up-front work that goes into the construction and planning of a building that not many people get to see,” said Lange. “Before work begins, everything is meticulously thought out.”
Steve Bailey has a great deal of experience in this area. Recently, he’s been involved in the planning for the Northwest Quadrant (NWQ) and the Joseph J. Zilber School for Public Health.
“There’s nothing that we do that’s boilerplate,” said Bailey. “There’s a lot of back and forth between us and the architects, engineers, vendors, and outside design companies that goes into establishing a long-term redevelopment plan.”
For instance, when renovating Mitchell Hall, challenges were uncovered as the older building was masonry in design with some walls 20-30 inches think at the base. When designing where jacks, cable and communications rooms should go and how to get them appropriately wired, these obstacles had to be overcome.
“There’s a tremendous amount of coordination that goes on between all of the parties involved,” said Bailey. “Once everyone’s reading from the same piece of music so to speak, we can move forward efficiently and effectively.”
Once construction begins Network Operations monitors the progress closely and works with contractors to solve any last minute issues, as well as make certain that the work is being completed to the University’s specifications.
After the project is complete and individuals are ready to begin moving into their new University space, Network Operations fulfills yet another function—working closely with incoming faculty and departments to ensure that office, conference and classroom space has the connectivity and communications needed. This involves detailed, proactive planning to determine who will live in what office space and what kind of technology access they will need (voice jack, data jack, or both).
From there, Network and Operations Services staff cull the information into a spreadsheet and proceed to generate a layout plan prior to the move. Service providers and contractors are coordinated. Phone connections are then installed; data connections are established. Sometimes a particular subnet or VLAN needs to be transferred and as such, routers and switches need to be configured and new switches installed. For example, at the end of last year in the thick of the NWQ move-in, 14 different departments utilizing more than 500 data connections and nearly 300 voice connections were successfully placed.
“Our job requires us to be people-friendly,” said Lange. “We deal with departments that are moving and contractors that are doing work. We coordinate all of these people to ensure a smooth and functional transition into these new University spaces. Every situation is different; it’s the variety that makes this job so interesting.”