Business school handles expansion with managed Ethernet switches

Referred to as a “”hidden gem”” by the Wall Street Journal, The University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management is well on its way to fulfilling its mission to be one of the top 10 business schools in the world. Established by Sandra and Joseph L. Rotman in 1993, and renamed in his honour

in 1997, the school has grown steadily, doubling its student population over the past five years as it continues to gain recognition for its leading-edge research and degree programs.

To manage that growth, the school is under constant renovation to meet demands for office and teaching space. For IT manager Larry Harrison, that means finding innovative ways to manage the network so that desktops and other devices can be moved or added without incurring substantial wiring costs.

“”Our basic issue is connectivity for faculty and staff during these renovations,”” says Harrison. “”We were taking spaces that usually housed one person and putting multiple people in them … so we had to provide some other form of network connectivity.””

When the Rotman School moved into its current building on St. George Street in downtown Toronto in 1995, it was considered one of the largest network installations on campus at the time, says Harrison, with more than 1,200 data outlets. Due to its mandatory laptop program, every classroom seat was outfitted with a network jack.


In the past, IT staff used small, unmanaged hubs as a cost-effective way to expand the original network, but because they were unmanaged there was no way to know who or what device was connected on the other end.

With roughly 90 faculty members, 90 administrative staff and 70 PhD students on-line at any given time, Harrison needed an alternative that would provide better control but still be able to take advantage of the school’s existing wiring.

Using the NJ200 Network Jack from 3Com Corp., a managed Ethernet switch that coverts a single wall port into four switched ports, Harrison says he has found a viable solution. The wall-mounted switch unobtrusively extends network connectivity in shared office spaces, conference areas and other expanded areas. Held in place with two screws, it can be installed wherever a regular network outlet already exists.

The NJ200 is managed by 3Com Supervisor software, which lets network staff spot problems and errors. “”We can distinguish what actual port may be a problem and we can do it from the console in our office versus running around to the floor,”” he notes. “”… If we’re having complaints about slowdowns, we can poke on switches and equipment along the way to see if we can see a bottleneck.””


The managed switch also offers a power over Ethernet function, allowing the units to be powered from the Rotman School’s wiring closet without the need and expense of wiring a separate power connector.

In addition to its wired network, which provides 100 Mbps Ethernet desktop connectivity to faculty, staff and PhD students, the Rotman School of Management also maintains an 802.11 wireless network for its 700 or so graduate students. According to Harrison, expanding on the wireless side isn’t an option for faculty because they need the more robust bandwidth of the wired network. Both the wired and wireless networks are supported by a Gigabit Ethernet campus backbone that provides access to other facilities on campus as well as the Internet.

The school is currently in the process of adding 26 new offices, meeting rooms and PhD student workspace to its fourth and fifth floors. One section is intended as an international research centre, which Harrison expects will push network connectivity to the limits. “”We have a feeling they’re going to be using videoconferencing and all of the bells and whistles, so we want to have maximum flexibility in these spaces,”” he says.

Using the wall-mounted switch, the IT staff is able to adapt to changes “”on the fly,”” he adds. The IT department itself has grown over the years which meant moving the help desk, network monitoring centre and developer workstations into a new space supported by the wall-mounted switches. “”We use the wall-mounts in there because most of them have multiple workstations,”” says Harrison. “”There’s no shortage of network connectivity and no one’s crawling under the desks to switch this over to that.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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