New Hardware May Solve Internet Slowdown
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Noticeably slower Internet access has plagued Kenyon for over two weeks. But after weeks of consulting, the extreme Internet slowdown might finally be cured.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Vice President for Library and Information Services (LBIS) Ron Griggs said Tuesday, Oct. 23, in a student-info email.
This past Monday, Oct. 22, an engineer from Time Warner Inc., the company that provides the link Kenyon uses to connect to its Internet provider, OARnet, replaced a small device called an SFP fiberoptic transceiver. This transceiver connects two fiber strands (one for sending and one for receiving) to a greater network switch. Since the upgrade, the College has not experienced an overall Internet slowdown as bad as those in the past two weeks, according to Grigg’s email, though LBIS will continue to monitor traffic in the coming days.
The road to this potential fix, however, was a long one.
On Oct. 6, according to Griggs, the campus began to experience slow response for Internet access, ranging from slowdowns of only a few minutes to limited access for as long as 45 minutes. Although variations in traffic load are normal, in this case the shifts were unpredictable in how long they lasted and in the times at which they occurred.
“If it’s slow because we’re reaching the maximum amount of traffic that we can pass, that’s normal. Everybody’s downloading a movie, so that’s what happens,” Griggs said. “What we’re seeing is the traffic is suddenly dropping down to some very low level, and [the Internet is] being very slow. And there are no errors. It’s just as though the Internet got slower somehow for no apparent reason. So, it’s not because too many people are using it. It’s because all the traffic isn’t actually going down through the wire.”
First, LBIS looked internally to solve the issue. “Our folks [worked] day and night to try and figure out if it was a problem with Kenyon,” Griggs said. “Is this a problem where Kenyon is not sending its information fast enough or properly? Is there something wrong at Kenyon?”
Ultimately, they saw no evidence of any hardware problems, according to Griggs. And after directly testing the connection between Kenyon and OARnet on Oct. 21, LBIS fully eliminated both Kenyon and OARnet as the source of the problem. “We know particularly when it’s going out of Kenyon, it’s going full speed, and when it comes in, we handle it at full speed,” Griggs said.
The test did yield some unusual results. When sending data from Gambier to Columbus, where OARnet’s equipment is located, there were no issues. When sending data from Columbus to Kenyon, however, the bandwidth was much smaller. “Since communication on the Internet is two-way, even if it goes out fast, if it comes back slow it doesn’t help,” Griggs said. “If you have a normal wire problem, a normal box problem, you would see slowness both ways. You would also see errors. We’re seeing neither one.”
The next step was to convince Time Warner to help diagnose the problem. “I think they just simply were not willing to listen to us before because they were looking to see if there were errors, and they saw no errors, so they said, ‘It’s not our problem,’” Griggs said. “Now I think we’ve finally gotten their attention. After this test we did on Sunday, I have been communicating with the Time Warner people a great deal, and I have been using every resource available to convince them to put more resources into solving our problem.”
On Monday, Time Warner may have finally done so after conducting its own line test and finding an error within the network.
The problem was difficult to diagnose partly because the SFP transceiver did not fail completely, but functioned normally in one direction and partially in the other. In addition, Time Warner staff first interpreted the issue as traffic congestion rather than failure, according to Griggs.
“It’s been one of the more frustrating situations because normally when you have a problem you can point to something and say, it’s that box. It’s that wire. Replace that and you’ll fix the problem,” Griggs said. “This one, there are no errors. … It’s not associated with Kenyon and we can’t get our vendor to sort of agree that there’s a problem at all. It’s been a lot more frustrating to me.”
After correctly identifying the problem and getting a replacement, the Internet is running smoothly. “The good news is that since the fix, we have not identified any abnormal network issues,” Griggs said.
Finally, Kenyon students can get back to their Netflix queues.