In the midst of a five-year IT revamp, Wi-Fi outages cause campus-wide disruptions
Disruptions to campus network services due to weather-related issues impact student learning as Yale enters year four of a five-year plan to update campus network infrastructure.
By 10 a.m. on Sept. 6, rainfall had surpassed what New Haven typically gets in a month, resulting in campuswide interruptions to Yale’s connectivity services.
In an email that morning to the University community, Yale Information Technology Services cautioned that outages may impact a range of services, including the campus network, CAS, VPN and the IT system status page, among others. According to John Barden, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, the outages were caused by water infiltration into campus network infrastructure situated near an active construction site.
“A significant amount of rain fell in a short amount of time, and the switch room in [Kline] Tower became extremely wet due to ongoing construction there,” Barden wrote in an email to the News. “It was not possible to keep water out of this active construction site.”
In the fall of 2019, the University embarked on a five-year plan to update campus network equipment and improve the resiliency of its information technology infrastructure to weather-related issues, Barden said. He added that the combined efforts between Yale ITS and the Office of Facilities have made system-wide outages “significantly” less frequent and have improved the department’s recovery time when outages do occur.
Barden highlighted that all of the switch room projects which have been completed over the course of these renovations remained dry during Tuesday’s storm. And when the Kline Tower switch room is completed, he said, Yale ITS is confident that the facility will remain dry, “reducing the risk of future weather-related network disruptions.” In the meantime, the construction team is actively working to reduce the likelihood of future water infiltration.
Minnie Li ENV ’23 shared that the recent outages impacted an important job interview — an experience she described as “very frustrating.”
“In general,” Li said, “this year Yale Secure has been kind of terrible… sometimes I cannot connect to it.”
Rebecca Harris LAW ’24 shared similar sentiments to Li as she recently had an online interview that required a faster internet connection than was available to her on campus. Ultimately, Harris relied on her cell phone data for the interview.
Barden told the News that the five-year plan will improve day-to-day Wi-Fi strength and connectivity, making it “better, faster” and more able to cover more area.
Some students, however, are adapting the way they do things in the short term as their trust in Yale’s network reliability falters. Li said she will be taking future interviews at home, worried about the risk of another important interview being interrupted by network outages on campus.
Of future concern to Harris is the possibility of disruptions occurring during crucial moments when law students are working virtually with real-world clients.
“Now in the COVID era, things like settlement conferences, hearings and meetings with your clients and opposing counsel all happen via online platforms,” Harris said. “I imagine it’s terrifying to be representing a real client in a real hearing and not knowing whether your internet is going to be cutting out.”
Without a fully-functioning Wi-Fi network, students may face difficulties accessing digital resources and online programs such as Zoom. Barden said that Yale ITS is working to refine the engineering design of the University’s network components to isolate future disruptions and minimize the impact of future outages. These changes and other recently employed resiliency efforts focused on better localizing disruptions will be tested over the coming winter break, according to Barden.
Even so, the five-year plan to improve Yale’s network may take slightly longer, he added.
“The overall network replacement project was planned for 2019-24, though this schedule is being reassessed due to significant global network equipment supply shortages which have required slowing the deployment through the pandemic,” Barden said.
Barden is the inaugural vice president for information technology in the University cabinet.