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Work to upgrade Tennessee Tech University’s information technology infrastructure, which is funded by federal stimulus dollars, should begin later this semester.

If all goes well, students will be surfing wirelessly from their residence halls by the Fall 2010 semester, just one of several benefits campus network users will experience.

The largest portion of the $10 million campuswide project, about $6.16 million, replaces dated equipment at the Clement Hall computer center to make the entire university network faster and more robust. The project includes the installation of optical fiber to buildings throughout campus and creates a seamless wireless environment.

The prospect of wireless connectivity throughout most of TTU’s 235-acre campus will probably be the most visible initial benefit to users. Currently, wireless hotspots are available in some buildings (not all) and select locations within buildings. None of the residence halls now have wireless connectivity.

“Ideally, what we’re talking about is campuswide coverage, where somebody even sitting outside of a building on a bench will be able to connect,” said S. Deivanayagam, associate dean for graduate studies and research, College of Engineering. Deivanayagam serves as chairperson of the task force assembled to manage the project. “The upgrade in general will make it possible to carry data, audio and video information on the network with almost no delay at all.”

The upgrade should be complete within the next 1.5 years in keeping with requirements of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Once finished, the upgrade will include 10 gigabit uplinks to buildings and 1 gigabit connections to desktops, about 1,000 times faster than today’s connections, he said.

At those speeds, applications such as voice over internet protocol, video conferencing and, if needed in the future, medical imaging will be possible.

“We’re also planning ahead for 40- and 100-gigabit needs in the future,” said Jerry Boyd, assistant director, campus IT services. “We’re trying to provision the switching gear in such a way so that we have the capability and all we’d have to do is do a little updating.”

Another major share of the project funds, $2.01 million, will help establish technology for a learning commons to be built on the first floor of the Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library. The learning commons will provide an environment rich in technology critical to collaborative student learning. It will be an area that could almost be described as the university’s livingroom: a place to study, snack, surf the Web, research and more.

An additional $1.03 million will fund IT support for distance, online and traditional instruction missions. Technology to enable such activities as the podcasting of lectures, video conferencing and virtual learning environments are envisioned.

Some $300,000 is for providing always-on IT services for learning villages. Two learning village communities will launch at TTU in the Fall 2010 semester.  Each with 150 students, the learning villages will be organized around themes. Eventually, virtually every student and many faculty members will belong to one of the villages.

Another $370,000 is earmarked for a regional economic development operations center, providing IT support for interdisciplinary teams of students to work with regional partners to develop, pilot and evaluate innovative technology solutions to real-world problems.

The IT infrastructure upgrade project was selected as the best use of federal stimulus money because of its broad-reaching benefits to the university.